“An Architectural Gem”: Clark County Government Center Wins AIA Western Mountain Region’s 25-Year Award

The prestigious award highlights the Government Center’s iconic design that has stood the test of time for 25 years

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Western Mountain Region (WMR) chapter has honored the Clark County Government Center, designed by Fentress Architects, with its 2020 Twenty-five Year Award. This prestigious award recognizes a built structure that has significantly influenced design and lifestyle in the Western Mountain Region. The project’s Southern Nevada-inspired design was recognized during the AIA Western Mountain Region Design and Honor Awards virtual Gala on Thursday, October 1.  

“In a town where icons are normally casinos and themed campuses, this project is refreshing because it has brought a conversation of architecture to the public consistently,” noted the 2020 AIA WMR Honor Awards Jury. “We are really pleased to see that the community has embraced the project wholeheartedly.”

Following a national design competition with submissions from 45 architects – including Antoine Predock and Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates – Fentress Architects was selected to design the Government Center. Fentress completed the project in June 1995 with a mission to provide the county with a much-needed seat of government that would also serve as the heart of this rapidly growing Nevada community for years to come. Today, more than 25 years later, the 375,000-square-foot, six-story Government Center continues to stand as one of Southern Nevada’s most memorable architectural landmarks, highlighted in nearly 20 awards and distinctions such as “Best of Las Vegas, Best Non-Hotel Architecture” for eight consecutive years (1999-2005) by readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“At Fentress, we believe architecture should serve a longstanding commitment to the community,” said Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA, Principal in Charge of Design at Fentress Architects. “This award is not only a testament to our humanistic design approach, but to years of collaboration with Clark County officials and community members. The Clark County Government Center has created an enduring landmark for the region while showcasing a model of open, accessible and stable government.”

Design for People

Every detail of Fentress’ design – from the spatial organization and design of the commission chambers, to form and materiality – harmonizes to create an uplifting, human-centric experience. The firm’s approach embodies four main themes: realize a civic order through logical, functional and straightforward design; establish a sense of place; create a concept of open an accessible government; and conceive a stable, permanent, and valued image of county government.

The government center is organized around a multifunctional County Courtyard and shaded arcade, facilitating intuitive wayfinding while protecting visitors from the desert sun as they navigate the complex. Natural stone forms and trees complete the circular layout and define an outdoor amphitheater for special events, concerts, and ceremonies. Inside the Commission Chambers, the County Commissioners’ seats are recessed, placing the citizens of Clark County above the officials and symbolizing a government of the people.

Creating Meaning, Identity and Sense of Place

The design considers landscape an essential source for connecting architecture with community and the region’s history. Seeking to emulate Nevada’s native landscapes found at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire, Fentress’ team visited the sites, borrowing inspiration from the dramatic surrounding desert environment including sandstone walls, unexpected openings and details, and geometric shapes.

These compelling references to Nevada’s history and natural landscape can be explored throughout the Government Center’s architecture. For example, the tree-lined pedestrian spine leading into the building represents the pathway to Mouse’s Tank at Valley of Fire, while petroglyphs chiseled in the shaded arcade illustrate actual sandstone carvings engraved by Native Americans throughout Southern Nevada. Inside the kiva-shaped County Room, the 80-foot diameter and 100-foot-high rotunda features a form and materiality inspired by the stream-worn basin of Mouse’s Tank. The pyramidal structure housing the 400-seat cafeteria and Community Room reflects the nearby Lone Mountain, and the triangular clerestories inside the Commission Chambers evoke the Prickly Pear cactus.

Connecting Architecture with Community

Clark County Government Center is not only an institution, but an amenity for the community. Each year, the amphitheater hosts diverse events ranging from cultural festivals and weddings, to regional traditions such as the annual Jazz in the Park series. A specially created docent program provides architectural tours to meet community demand to engage deeper with the building, the art events it hosts, and its many unique features. In fact, the building was a selected site tour at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2019.The Government Center showcases that the built environment can embrace, connect, and inspire its community – a true indication of the government center’s enduring significance in the Western Mountain Region.

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