Building the ARIA Tower at CityCenter Proved a First for Many Involved

In just three short years an architectural and construction team consisting of some of the industry’s best players designed and built a glittering city within a city that has forever transformed the famous Las Vegas skyline. Where the old Boardwalk Casino once sat, today stands CityCenter, a 67-acre complex that is home to hotels, casinos, retail establishments, restaurants and residences. CityCenter is a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp. of Dubai.

The 3.8-million-square-foot glass and steel ARIA Resort & Casino is located in the heart of CityCenter. The 4,000-room tower was designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and stands as the firm’s first casino project, as well as its first Las Vegas project.

“ARIA was [CityCenter’s] centerpiece and the owners wanted it to announce itself on the skyline of Las Vegas,” says Gregg Jones, the project’s design team leader with Pelli Clarke Pelli.

And announce itself the tower indeed does. Not only does it feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass, but also massive glass canopies and structural, point-supported wall systems. In addition to its aesthetics, the tower also announces itself as a beacon of sustainable design, having earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) gold certification. In fact, owners and developers approached the entire CityCenter project with an eye toward green as it is the first hotel, retail district or residential development in Las Vegas to earn LEED Gold certification—not just one, but a total of six Gold certifications.

In 2004 MGM approached Pelli Clarke Pelli to discuss the CityCenter project, which they were contemplating at the time, and explained the extraordinary scope, as Jones describes it.

“We were not particularly interested in doing a themed architectural structure; luckily MGM was not either,” says Jones. “The theme that they wanted was good design. So it was very easy to say yes because all of our intentions and goals [were in sync].”

And while the architectural firm, which has designed such well-known structures as the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the International Finance Center in Hong King, had done casino studies, this project would be it’s first casino project.

“And up until that time we had done hotels, 200 or 300 keys; this was 4,000 keys. So this project was several first for us,” adds Jones.

Included in the design of ARIA is a massive, high-performance curtainwall system that was created to allow in natural daylight while blocking the sun’s rays. Enclos served as the contract glazier for the tower, which features Viracon’s VRE -138 1 1/8-inch, insulating, low-E glass in the vision and spandrel areas. Working through a joint venture with Baker Metal Products, Enclos provided design, engineering, fabrication and assembly and erection of 1.2 million square feet of curtainwall—the company’s largest curtainwall project. Installation took 22 months, from April 2, 2007 to January 30, 2009.

“From an aerial view of the site the building geometry is very unique. Two overlapping arc segments create its footprint,” says Bobby Zammetti, senior project manager with Enclos. “But one of the most unique features of the curtainwall are the corner units. There are roughly 3,300 of these, all of which are designed without a corner mullion that you would have in a conventional curtainwall unit.”

In addition to the curtainwall system, glass was also used in other ways throughout the ARIA project. Two massive canopy systems, as well as structural walls in the entrance areas are also defining elements of the project.

Speaking of the canopies, Jones says, “[We thought] it would be nice to not be under a dark cantilever and instead have the Las Vegas sun and ambient daylight, which would have a real glow while still achieving both weather protection and solar protection. So we used a fairly dense, 60-70 percent ceramic frit, which provides a constant ambient glow as well as protection from the direct sun and the weather.”

Novum Structures manufactured and supplied a number of these glazing systems, while installation was subcontracted to the Las Vegas branch of Giroux Glass. This work included a 37, 200–square-foot canopy located at the front entrance, and the front entry vestibule, which features stainless steel elliptical structural columns and swing doors. On the Harmon Avenue entrance, the company built a similar 18,400-square foot canopy and also a three-story, curved and inclined 32,000-square-foot wall.

“This wall is comprised of suspended steel fins with a machined groove in them and the glass is edge clamped,” says Ian Collins, president and chief executive officer of Novum. “The wall includes several vestibules and doorways, which use elliptical stainless steel profiles.”

Sanxin Glass from China was Novum’s glass supplier for the entrance and canopy portion of the project. The canopies are constructed of laminated glass with a white frit.

Installation took Giroux glass about one year to complete and Jonathan Schuyler, a Giroux preconstruction executive and partner, says toward the end they had about 120 people on the job at one time.

“It was very dramatic the way it all came together in the end,” says Schuyler.

The ARIA project provided many firsts for all of those involved and it now stands as an example of that hard work and dedication. It was a project that also proved to be a learning experience for everyone involved. Jones says it wasn’t just any one thing he learned, but hundreds of things. Excellent communication made the project a success.

“And that’s something that not a lot of firms do well, not a lot of contractors do well and not a lot of architects do well. It’s something we make a concerted effort at and it’s extremely important to communicate your intentions and stay in constant contact and to have partners in a process who want to be partners and share ideas. Without that intellectual climate this project would not have happened, especially given the complex scope and the astoundingly compressed time line,” says Jones.

Don’t miss the March-April issue of the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal to read a detailed, in-depth feature on constructing the ARIA tower.