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Las Vegas Design For Downtown Courthouse Draws Critics

Supreme Court rendering
State Supreme Court
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Rendering of the recently approved State Supreme Court building that will be built downtown is drawing criticism for its aesthetic.  

After the Las Vegas City Council approved blueprints for a Nevada Supreme Court building in downtown Las Vegas, commentaries erupted on the Internet.

Some people like the neo-classical design, reminiscent of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Others said it has the traditional design has no place in downtown Las Vegas, which has been fighting and scratching to modernize.

One of those opposing voices was Brian 'Paco' Alvarez, a Las Vegas native, downtown resident and member of the city Arts Commission.

“One of the challenges we have as a city, we deal with the monster that is the Strip and all this theming that goes on over there," Alvarez said, "But downtown has a really great opportunity to really push design and have really thought out design.”

Alvarez believes the new courthouse doesn't fit the design of other buildings in the area 

“We’re attempting to theme downtown with architecture that doesn’t fit there,” he said.

He believes the city missed an opportunity to push the architecture in its downtown core.

City Councilman Bob Coffin's district includes the area where the new building will sit. He believes the design of the building fits with its purpose. 

“The building represents the content of the building,” Coffin said, “The building is the ‘law.’”

He also noted the city isn't building it and therefore has no say in what it should look like. 

“We can’t tell the state what to build,” Coffin said.

T.R. Witcher, who writes about architecture and teaches in the UNLV School of Architecture, disagrees with that idea. 

Although, generally, and especially on the Strip, the person paying for the building decides what it will look like, Witcher said it is time to talk about changing that mindset.

“In the part of the city, where we’re really trying to build the city for the citizens, I think its fair to say – let’s have the conversation,” Witcher said. 

Alavrez agrees that it is time to talk about what the look of a building should be downtown. 

“We’re at a point in our city’s maturity where we need to start having those conversations,” he said.

Witcher said that what the built environment of a city looks like can have an enormous impact on how it makes people feel.

“We have a sense that the way the buildings look are a part of the character of a place, the spirit of a place, that which makes a place unique and special,” he said.

Councilman Coffin thinks a variety of architecture is a reflection of the city.

“The mélange of designs in this town!” Coffin said. “In fact, that is just us. That is Las Vegas. It is the way we are. We build for the moment. We build for what the market wants.”

(Editor's note: In his interview, Councilman Coffin said the state was paying for the building. That is not the case. It is being built by a private developer and will be leased to the state of Nevada.)

T.R. Witcher, a journalist and instructor, UNLV School of Architecture;  Brian Alvarez, Las Vegas Arts Commission

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.