For most of the 20th century, Las Vegas created its own identify as a city by borrowing from everyone else's. Early casinos tried to recreate the get out of Dodge Wild West (El Rancho, Frontier) or exotic desert locals (Sahara, Dunes). These were mere evocations of their inspirations but later the movers and shakers of Vegas just plain old stole stuff to create their skyline. There's an Eiffel Tower, a pyramid, the canals of Venice, and even the skyscrapers of New York -- all designed to create a sense of jaw-dropping wonder in the city's visitors. It was a mass consumption, more-is-better, and "how do we top ourselves next?" type of architectural race that created a strange sort of order out of the chaos of such different styles and structures.
The new century, however, has taken things in a decidedly different direction. Gone are the outrageous themes replaced by cutting-edge modernism, all sleek lines of glass and metal designed with the future in mind, not only from an architectural standpoint but from an ecological one as well. Sure, building the 7,000 room, 66-acre CityCenter complex probably made the earth shudder a bit, but its advanced green building and sustainable operating systems helped to ensure that the planet didn't just collapse in on itself from the weight of it all.
The buildings in Las Vegas, old and new, are the art of the city. Yes, there are a few art galleries and installations at the major hotel-casinos, but they are overshadowed by the sheer maniacal genius of the buildings in which they are housed. Witness The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which was designed as one big art project with graffiti artist renderings on the walls of the parking garages, support columns in the lobby clad in video screens showing fields or champagne bubbles, and even vending machines that dispense $5 packets of art instead of cigarettes.
When they come -- and they will, eventually -- will the next wave of Las Vegas hotels embrace the contemporary aesthetic of the new century or return to the so-gaudy-it's-gorgeous overkill of the last? Or will they come up with something new entirely? That's one of the most exciting things about this town -- you never know what's coming next, but you are almost guaranteed that it's going to be interesting.