Stone in Architecture / Commercial

Art Deco style captured in stone

January 4, 2013
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When city leaders in Las Vegas, NV, selected David M. Schwarz Architects, Inc. to design The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, they wanted a building with architecture that would transcend the ages — as opposed to the ever-changing casino designs that often define the city. The result is an Art Deco masterpiece that features a wealth of natural stone for the exterior as well as the interior.

“The project was envisioned by city leaders over 15 years ago,” explained Gregory M. Hoss, AIA, Principal at David M. Schwarz Architects, Inc. “A group sat down and decided that it was time for Las Vegas to step up and become a player among the bigger league cities. One of the things they were missing was a true performing arts center. That began the process. After determining what they wanted to do, they ended up hiring us.”

Before beginning design work on The Smith Center, the architects traveled the globe seeking inspiration. “We took tours of performing arts facilities around the world to get a sense of where this building would sit,” Hoss said. “We went all over Europe — Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Milan, Venice. We also saw venues in Mexico as well as across the U.S.

“The owners were very interested in taking the tradition of concert halls that developed in Europe and came to the U.S., and they wanted to bring it to the next step,” Hoss continued. “But even with that in mind, they also didn’t want to depart from the overall concept. For example, we saw a performing arts center in Toronto that was a glass box, and they clearly didn’t want something like that.”

The location of the building also played a role in the design. “We were struggling with the context of Las Vegas, where the concept is to often create replicas of something else around the world,” the architect said. “Our client wanted a timeless piece of architecture, so it was not something that you would typically see in Las Vegas. However, it does have some regional influences — namely the Hoover Dam. Without Hoover Dam, Las Vegas would not exist. That was built at a time when they cared about the architecture of this engineering feat. We used some of those art deco forms.”

A classic exterior

For the exterior of The Smith Center, which is the first major civic performance hall in the U.S. to earn LEED accreditation, the architects selected domestic limestone. “We were strong proponents of using local stone, and we really wanted to use a meta-quartzite from the Las Vegas area,” Hoss said. “It is quarried in Jean, NV, which is about 20 miles away, but it likely would have been shipped overseas for fabrication.”

Given this situation, the architects sought another U.S. material, and they went with a classic. “Indiana limestone is a timeless stone, and harkens back to the concrete of the Hoover Dam. Bybee Stone Co. was the supplier. We have done three or four performing arts centers and used their stone.”

The limestone supplied for The Smith Center includes intricately cut elements. “All of the three-dimensional stone is carved stone,” Hoss said. “The standard cladding was 4 inches typically. The main facade stone was 4 inches, but there was a lot of variation.

It is a combination of handwork and machined pieces. On some of the towers, there are tapered, chamfered corners, so every piece of stone going up the facade is a different size. During the installation, they brought people from Bybee out who did some handwork in situ to get everything correct. We really had no major problems during installation.”

In all, a total of 92,000 square feet of Indiana limestone was installed on the exterior. The typical panel size is 36 x 16 x 4 inches, while the pieces used on the Carillion Tower are typically 76 x 32 x 4 inches.

Complex interior detailing

The interior of The Smith Center continues the Art Deco theme, and it features intricately detailed marble throughout, including Rosso Asiago and Rosso Verona marble for the vertical surfaces and Fior di Pesco, which was primarily used for the floors. “Our initial thoughts for the reddish exterior stone actually led us to what we would use in the interior,” Hoss said. “We were familiar with Rosso Verona marble, and the main stone we used on the interior is Rosso Asiago, which is similar.”

The Rosso Asiago and Rosso Verona marble was supplied by Testi Group, and the Fior di Pesco was supplied by Margraf, both located in the Verona region of Italy. “We visited both companies multiple times — at least two trips to each,” Hoss said. “We took an initial trip just to confirm that these were the stones that we wanted for the floors and the walls. That was early in the process, and then we came back a year later and selected the blocks. The first thing we did was view the slabs, and we gave them some very specific direction on what would be acceptable in terms of the graining and the color. We wanted a more monolithic even appearance. We also did a lot of coordination with them. The surfaces are stepping, and we talked about how we would achieve that. Would we use multiple pieces or a single piece? We considered the option of a veneered panel on honeycomb backing to save cost in terms of installation. Ultimately, it became clear that having a solid ¾-inch-thick solid piece of stone was going to be easier and more cost effective than doing a honeycomb-backed stone.”

The pattern of the marble veining on the walls was carefully coordinated by the architects as well as by Testi Group during fabrication. “For the Rosso Asiago, all of the slabs were placed so that the graining was running vertical,” Hoss explained. “Some of the details at the stairs and the facia of the mezzanine use Rosso Verona, and we turned it so the Rosso Verona was on a diagonal.”

While the architects had debated book-matching the slabs, the final design included book-matched slabs as well as some areas where the slabs were arranged in an intricate “diamond-matched” pattern. “The sizes vary considerably, but the wall panels in the Main Lobby, which are all book-matched, are typically about 8 feet tall by 3 feet, 6 inches wide,” Hoss said.

Meanwhile, the floor pattern was achieved by using Fior di Pesco pieces that varied in color. “The biggest difficulty was making sure there was enough of a difference between the light and dark Fior di Pesco to make the pattern, which was pretty successful,” Hoss said. “There were also a lot of discussion on expansion joints in the floor. We were adamant that we didn’t want caulked joints located haphazardly on the floor. Since we had octagon patterns of stone, the expansion joints were integrated into the patterns.”

In addition to the primary materials, a broad range of other marble products were used for restrooms, conference areas, credenzas, merchandise counters and furnishing. Approximately 20 stones were used in all.

Implementing the design

Overall, construction of The Smith Center took just over three years. Installation of the exterior stonework took one year, and the interior stone was installed over a period of six months. “The general contractor was Whiting-Turner, and the subcontractor was Superior Tile & Stone, of whom I have only good things to say,” Hoss said.

During the installation, Hoss said that HKS Architects, Inc., the executive architect, was frequently on site for supervision, and David M. Schwarz Architects, Inc. also made regular visits to the jobsite. “We tended to go once every two weeks, and we spent a good amount of time reviewing minor issues with the stone,” he said. “But once the shop drawings were approved, everything went fairly smoothly, and everything worked out between contractor, fabricator and supplier. I didn’t have to get involved too intimately with any issues once the shop drawings were finished.”

While the installation of the stonework went smoothly, there were some aspects of the stone detailing that required careful coordination and craftsmanship. “On the exterior, there are these smaller towers with chamfered corners,” Hoss said. “Getting it to work so that the joints were all equal took a lot of back and forth. We also worked to get the stainless steel hangers and structure to all be coordinated.”

Inside the building, one of the challenges was the curved “Founders Wall” that is clad in stone. “It is a round room, and getting the curved panels to work with all of the founders names was a huge undertaking,” the architect said. “They were still collecting to the very end, so we were waiting to find out who all of the donors would be. All of it was done by Testi Group in Italy, and we sent a signage consultant there to make sure everything came out right.”

The architects were also involved in selecting the right finishing products. “One of the last issues that we had was how to finish the floors,” Hoss said. “They tested five different kinds of products to provide the right level of slip resistance. We were concerned that we didn’t end up with a finish that was too glossy, because it would make the stone look fake.”

The Smith Center opened its doors on March 10, 2012, and it has been well received by city officials and The Smith Center Board as well as the general public. “The reaction has been phenomenal,” Hoss said. “I think it has been hugely well received by the Las Vegas community. I know that the Board of The Smith Center is ecstatic, and they say it is a transformative project for Las Vegas. It has changed the community the way that they intended to, and we hope the architecture is part of that. There’s nothing quite like walking into this lobby. It is clearly one of those projects where everything came together, and we had a great crew of craftsmen on the project.” 

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