Las Vegas City Hall

A desert-inspired office tower anchors a new downtown development

This article is part of gb&d‘s Green Typologies series, City Halls: The Heart of the City.

Project

Location Las Vegas
Size 309,000 ft2
Completion 2012
Program City hall, meeting rooms, offices

Team

Architect Elkus Manfredi Architects
Architect of Record JMA Architecture Studios
Client City of Las Vegas
Developer Forest City Enterprises
General Contractor Whiting-Turner
MEP Engineer JBA Consulting Engineers
Structural Engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers
Civil Engineer Poggemeyer Design Group
Landscape Architect SWA Group

Green

Certification LEED Gold (expected)
Site Urban infill
Exterior Glass, steel, masonry, PVs
Water Storm-water capture, low-flow fixtures
Landscape Drought-resistant plants
Light Natural daylighting in the offices, LED lights

Most people share a singular impression of Las Vegas. It is exuberant, flashy, and frenetic—a place where fun is on tap 24/7. Few among its 39 million visitors per year come for an ecotourism experience, yet green ideas are one of Las Vegas’ best kept secrets. Tourists overlook the resource-saving mentality of the city because all the lights, limos, and late-night attractions seem incongruous with environmental sensitivity. But much of the “real” Vegas for residents is away from The Strip, which is technically outside the city limits, and people’s impressions are beginning to change thanks to a number of energy conservation efforts at casinos and a push for LEED-certified buildings, such as the new Las Vegas City Hall.

The new city hall is the nexus of the “real” downtown, an area undergoing substantial development. Nevada already has more square feet of LEED-certified buildings per capita than any other state, and Las Vegas is hoping to add one more building to the list by applying for LEED Gold certification for the city hall.

The relationship of the city hall to its surroundings is no accident. “A lot of emphasis over the past ten years by the mayor [Oscar Goodman, whose term limit expired in 2011] has been on the downtown,” says Tom Perrigo, the city’s chief sustainability officer. “Public buildings set the tone, particularly in a city hall where there are all kinds of activities around it.”

Through a series of city council resolutions that emphasize climate protection, green building, energy, and urban forestry, Las Vegas has incorporated environmentalism into its very DNA, particularly in the downtown elements. New police headquarters, a center for performing arts, a transit center, the Mob Museum (a showcase of organized crime and law enforcement), and two corporate buildings are all LEED-certified and within a few blocks of the city hall. About $7 million was spent on pedestrian-friendly streetscaping, and the city also invested $65 million in water and energy, including a gradual switch to LED street lighting. A retail market made of discarded shipping containers, Container Park, was approved by the city council in October 2012.

This concentration of employers and attractions is drawing other entrepreneurial ventures, in part prompted by Zappos.com, which purchased the old city hall. The successful online retailer is retrofitting the building to ultimately accommodate 2,000 employees by October 2013, and new restaurants, taverns, and other retail businesses are already opening in the area.

The LED-powered luminaires in the façade are expected to reduce annual energy costs by more than $400,000 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2,400 metric tons.
The LED-powered luminaires in the façade are expected to reduce annual energy costs by more than $400,000 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2,400 metric tons.

In appropriately spectacular fashion, the building’s exterior captures the eye with the proficiency of a world-class casino. Designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston, the 309,000-square-foot contemporary glass, metal, and masonry building, impressive in its own right, is momentarily upstaged at first glance by a stand of 33 “solar trees” on the south façade of the building. These cast shade on the entry plaza, where the average temperature highs in July and August are in the triple digits, and together with a photovoltaic array on the rooftop of the building, they also collect 290,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

The boomerang footprint of the seven-story office tower is oriented to control solar exposure and optimize energy performance while low-E and fritted windows, natural shading, vegetation, and high-albedo roofing materials reduce solar heat gain.

Howard Elkus, principal at Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects, wanted the building design to make a statement about the past and the future of the city itself. Hoover Dam, the source of electricity that enabled Las Vegas to grow, is strongly referenced with exterior LED luminaries that cascade an evening lightshow along window fins that represent water powering the turbines. The horizontal bands on the building’s north and west faces allude to the stratified walls of the Black Canyon around the Hoover Dam.

The prefunction space is primarily lit with daylight, reducing the need for articifial lighting in one of the largest spaces in the building.
The prefunction space is primarily lit with daylight, reducing the need for articifial lighting in one of the largest spaces in the building.

Las Vegas’s history as a desert spring is also referenced in several places, and downward-diagonal beams of glass representing the sun radiate from the upper-right corner on the east wing façade, a visual acknowledgment of the building’s future energy source. Overall, Elkus says the project was designed so that “the rawness and gutsiness of the desert run into the building.”

A huge part of the building’s sustainability measures include a drought-resistant landscape program. Precipitation (a scant 4.5 inches per year) is captured on-site and reused to water the landscaping; concurrently, no- and low-flow fixtures and efficient mechanical systems reduce water-use in the building. Underground and surface parking is complemented by electric vehicle charging stations, public transportation, and bike parking, while the downtown location wins points in community connectivity, with a respectable Walk Score rating of 82.

This mentality, the city hall’s emphasis on sustainable design, and the increasing presence of non-gaming companies such as Zappos might not be what visitors to Las Vegas expect, but those are just a few of many surprises in the greener, future-forward city.

This article is part of gb&d‘s Green Typologies series, which in each issue explores a single type of building. For more of our most recent collection, City Halls: The Heart of the City, choose from the list below: