If, when entering Hospitality Hall through its main entrance, your first thought is, “That staircase would be right at home in the Cosmopolitan,” then UNLV alumnus Michael Del Gatto and his team at Carpenter Sellers Del Gatto Architects did their job.
For students training for careers in the hospitality industry, their new home on campus was conceived not as form following function, but form as function.
“The building has to mirror the experience that our student will have when they enter the industry,” William F. Harrah College of Hospitality Dean Stowe Shoemaker said. “Hospitality is not a job, it's a lifestyle. Let's create a space that mirrors that lifestyle, and let's create a space that mirrors our fine resorts in town.”Del Gatto, who received his bachelor’s and master’s in architecture in 1996 and 1999, respectively, first started on what would become Hospitality Hall in 2009, when the state and university hired the firm for the project. But, when funding dried up due to the recession, the project was mothballed until 2014.
Once the firm got the greenlight to move forward, the vision was crystal from the get-go: Hospitality Hall should reflect the kinds of places UNLV’s graduates will work in after they cross the commencement stage.
“It’s what you might find in, say, a boutique hotel,” Del Gatto said. “You understood its importance at UNLV as a program, but you also understood that this could be the center of hospitality for the university in terms of where they could entertain guests and bring donors. The materials came from the process and they came from the goals.”
That staircase connecting the first and second floors is part of a sweeping open concept. Made from recycled furniture with a blend of woods gives the final product an exotic finish, the staircase makes a grand statement. And it just so happens to fit into the firm’s focus on sustainable architecture, with the hall expected to receive silver LEED certification.
Just off to the left on the first floor are high-top communal tables, made from slabs of walnut that offer contrast to the stairs, adding to the hotel lobby vibe in the building.
The glassed-in entrance is cloaked in a jagged, zig-zag façade, made of steel tubes and designed to reduce sunlight pouring through a western exposure by up to 60 percent.
Moving up the building, the open concept was designed to mingle public and private spaces — professor’s offices are placed near gathering spaces meant for students to engage in group projects; classrooms are situated just beyond communal spots so students and alumni can grab a chair, a power outlet, and a healthy slice of wifi.
But the prestige piece at Hospitality Hall is undoubtedly its fourth floor test kitchen, with its state-of-the-art equipped space seemingly floating on the fourth floor. But unlike the kitchens in the city’s resorts, this one has a sweeping view of the Strip to the west, just beyond a shaded outdoor deck designed for events, receptions, and the like.
“It really was a cool opportunity for us to showcase the kitchen with glass on two sides,” Del Gatto said. “It's not often you're in academic building and you see into a kitchen in that way. The idea of the smells coming through the building from that floor was very much welcomed by the college so students to get excited about what's taking place there.”
Hospitality Hall was designed to fit in with its immediate campus neighbors — Beam Hall, Lied Library, the Barrick Museum, and the Carol C. Harter Classroom Building Complex — in a contemporary style, but comfortable in its place on campus.
The firm — which has in its portfolio the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, Nevada State College’s Liberal Arts and Sciences building and buildings across the country for the University of Phoenix — may get its next opportunity not in the heart of campus, but right on Maryland Parkway. It has submitted renderings on a proposed new building for the Lee Business School, envisioned to be UNLV’s front door between the Richard Tam Alumni Center and the Flora Dungan Humanities Building.
“It has been the honor of my career to lead a talented team of people in designing a flagship building for my alma mater,” said Del Gatto, who joined the firm in 2000 and became a principle and partner in 2005. “I spent my formative years as an aspiring architect at UNLV studying the buildings on campus and never anticipated that I would have the opportunity to contribute to the campus.”