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UNLV architecture students: Screw the budget crisis. We can dream!
by Gregan Wingert | posted March 8, 2011
Cuts in crisscrossed rhythm slash the building's exterior, exposing the bones of the structure. Sheets of windows help the historic "Flashlight" sculpture illuminate its surroundings -- a nest of staircases -- and existing theaters are sheltered under one roof that appears to levitate above them all.
Dreamt in the minds of two of UNLV's own architecture students, this theater facility design was fathomed to win a competition -- and not to succumb to UNLV's current budget woes. It's almost laughable to consider the design as UNLV talks of bankruptcy, but the idea is still as cool as, say, a new stadium or retail shopping center.
Masterminds behind the design (pictured) are graduate students Mark Bell and Josh Moser of Team X2, one of three teams that advancing to the finals in the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology's "Ideal Theatre" International Student Design Competition, held March 9-12 in Charlotte, N.C. There, the students will show their work to the organization's Architectural Commission.
The team of Yissa Renteria, Sara Rind and Garrett Sullivan was also honored as one of two merit award winners.
[Read about other architects remaking the Las Vegas Valley, one incredible building at a time.]
"The competition called to design the ideal theater for your campus," says Moser, adding that the project would connect fine arts as a whole.
The Ideal Theatre Student Design Competition, now in its fifth year, encourages architecture and theater students to collaborate in order to write the program and develop the design. Professional theater architects and consultants then jury the submissions.
Moser and Bell'd winning design focused on creating a facility that could gain UNLV more national and international attention, all while giving UNLV a fine art facility rather than a collection of performance halls.
The idea behind the design is to give UNLV a real anchor, physically and metaphorically.
"[The theaters] should be a focal point on the campus and it's not," Bell says. "Basically, it's a walkway for people to get to the parking garage."
In X2's design, the shells of Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall and Judy Bayley Theatre would be used, but the inside would be stripped away and furnished with the latest high-tech theater equipment.
"It's a black box theater on steroids," says Bell, commenting on the sophisticated lighting system and other high-tech elements that would be wired into part of the design of the facility. Other aspects of the seven-story complex design include guest rooms for visiting performers and restaurant run by the hotel school that would give culinary students on-the-job training.
"We encased it all in one building and made 'Flashlight' our lobby, filling the void that existed between the theaters," Moser says.
Hospitality Design is a new emphasis within the architecture school, and Bell and Moser are among the first few students to study within the program. UNLV School of Architecture professor Glenn NP Nowak designed the concentration. Entering the competition is a part of the course.
"The competition requires collaboration, the design had to be a sustainable solution," Nowak says. "They were looking for ways to reinforce the already existing buildings."
To complete the project, Bell and Moser sought the advice of peers from the hospitality and fine arts colleges.
"It got us integrated with campus," Bell says. Talking to graduates in the theater program about lighting, set designs "to get the feel of behind the scenes of a theater production" certainly helped.
Students focused on the idea that UNLV's performing art center could compete with those found on the Strip. The hospitality studio looked to embrace the designs seen in Vegas entertainment facilities and stages.
"It's a shame to not take advantage of the natural hospitality environment we live in," Bell says.
For so long architecture in Las Vegas did not reflect the architecture found on Las Vegas Boulevard and designing Vegas-style structures wasn't being taught. Offering the hospitality design combination makes it attractive to other students to come to UNLV, Nowak says. "It's been a really good synergy."
And professionals are taking notice. In a final presentation, Moser says a judge actually asked why the design couldn't be done. Perhaps a new theater is a pipe dream in this economy, but the broader point of training tomorrow's architects isn't lost on the department.
"In this economy it would really be best to invest in future architects," says Nowak, and the Hospitality Design concentration invests in those students, giving them practical experience on a fictional project -- fictional, at least, in the current economy.
Editor's note: This article was corrected on March 15 to reflect the fact that this is not the first time UNLV architecture students have advanced to the international competition.
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