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UNLV architecture students dream up alternatives for The Roadhouse casino

We see a lot of we-heart-locals on billboard advertising, but have we fully explored the role of casino resorts in the community? Is their purpose to provide jobs and movie theaters? What about a casino retirement community? Pet boarding? Could casino resorts become hubs of the communities they serve — vessels of stimulating design and waypoints of entertainment and intellectual discourse?

A group of hospitality design students from the UNLV School of Architecture asks these questions and more in an architecture exhibit at VAST Space Projects, as they envision projects fulfilling a resort requirement necessary to reopen the shuttered Henderson casino, The Roadhouse. A legal battle with Stations Casinos lead to Roadhouse losing its gaming license formerly secured under a grandfather clause. Consequently, it was subjected to new legislation requiring a 200-room resort addition. The situation sparked a creative collaboration between Roadhouse owners and the architecture students.

The works on display are a blend of architectural brilliance and conceptual abstraction, offering a potent reminder why architecture is considered a visual art form. Student designs seek to restore The Roadhouse and preserve its heritage while creatively fulfilling or subverting the room requirement with a variety of solutions.

Inspired by shadows cast from a campfire, Bryan Oxborrow designed an elegantly minimalist lattice to supply the shadowed boundaries of 200 ephemeral spaces; light, so important to design, becomes everything, directly creating form. In a similar vein, Kyle Wild proposes to satisfy legal concerns with a virtual resort, fulfilling casino amenity needs from room service, movies and gambling, all easily facilitated through spacious rooms existing on the Internet. Kitty Slaughter, inspired by someone in China living in “a 300-square-foot apartment that he can transform into 23 different rooms,” makes vacancy a thing of the past with movable walls, allowing the entire resort to be configured to meet any number of needs.

Like sedimentary layers in a geological diagram, each pane of clear Plexi-glass in Melody Quihuis’ design portrays a different community layer — street layout, neighborhoods, business complexes — with the goal of weaving the needs, appearance and spatial flow into one seamless environment. Also taking community and spatial integration into account, Javier Barrera’s design addresses the needs of the casino and segregation of its elderly patronage, with a mixture of resort-style living space, health-care rooms and all-inclusive casino entertainment.

And Kyle Fischer’s brutally elegant model — inspired by Gordon Matta-Clark’s alternative architectural work “Splitting: Four Corners,” in which a large white house is chainsawed in half — subverts the 200-room requirement with separate-but-equal elements, each with 15 slot machines, all dangling from cords all in a row.

“Do we really need the traditional notion of a 200-room hotel?” queries Glenn N.P. Nowak, assistant professor of hospitality design at UNLV in charge of the group of design students. “Not mentioning any names, but there are chains of hotels that just take a template and stamp it out. These students are throwing the cookie cutter out.” Neutral corporate shells and architectural homogeny surround us, but behind the intriguing designs of this exhibit, we see a daring glimpse into an innovative future.

THE ROADHOUSE 4.0 Thursday-Saturday, Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; through Feb. 22; VAST Space Projects, 730 W. Sunset Road,