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Fabulously Failed Dreams

The unadulterated visions of grand architecture found in UNLV Libraries' Special Collections and Archives.

Arts and Culture  |  May 11, 2018  |  By UNLV News Center
sketch of western-themed hotel

While the Bonanza Hotel Casino was eventually built in Las Vegas, the final design was not as fantastically themed as this iteration of Homer Rissman's 1950s. His are among the original architectural drawings now housed in UNLV's Special Collections and Archives.

An architect’s unbuilt projects are sometimes more interesting than the ones that come to life — perhaps because they survive as a pure image of the architect’s vision. They’re unblemished by client changes, unconstrained by actual construction costs, and unadulterated by renovations that can undo the vision over time.

University Libraries’ exhibit, "Unbuilt Las Vegas: Imagining Failed Dreams," highlights visions of dream Las Vegas architecture that, for one reason or another, were never built. The exhibit, in the Florence “Flo” Mlynarczyk Gallery on the third floor of Lied Library, is curated by Peter Michel from architectural collections housed in Special Collections and Archives.

While there are any number of wildly imagined Strip resort ideas and proposals that could fill a good-sized coffee table book or website, the exhibit eschews Bob Stupack’s Titanic, the Star Trek Enterprise, the Beverly Hillbillies Resort, the various London Resorts, or Moon, all which seem to belong more in comic books than as actual buildings. Instead, it looks at a number of proposals created by Las Vegas architects whose drawings were donated to Special Collections and Archives. Many of these architects had designs that were built and which still in some ways define Strip architecture.

"These unbuilt projects are proposals that went beyond an outlandish illustration, (although they may contain outlandish illustrations) to actual and sometimes elaborate design drawings," said Michel. "Sometimes some version may have been built. Because architecture is a visual art, part of what we want to show is simply the art of drawing, sometimes with a pencil on paper, and how drawings were created and used to present ideas that ultimately become the blueprints for construction."

Architects whose designs are featured in this exhibit include Martin Stern, Jr., Homer Rissman, and Gary Guy Wilson.

Then-UNLV architecture students Tyler Stanger and Jimmy Chang discovered many of the designs in the exhibit while processing collections as part of a Dean's Associates-funded project in 2016.

Unbuilt is a companion exhibit to "BUILT: A Photographic Survey of the Built Environment of the Las Vegas Valley," on display on the first floor of Lied Library. BUILT is curated by Aaron Mayes from images taken as part of the Building Las Vegas collecting initiative.