Dressed casually in a black leather jacket, black T-shirt and blue corduroys, Frank Gehry, one of the world’s most celebrated and controversial architects, strolls into the most sculptural room of his first Las Vegas building on March 17. It’s sunlit and quiet, and the cascading windows, rolling to the floor in unison with the white flowing walls, emit an almost chapel-like feel inside the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
Even with a documentary film crew on site, it is an intimate and emotional moment. Gehry says that it takes his breath away.
He walks the room, absorbs the 199 wildly angled windows and talks quietly with Las Vegas businessman Larry Ruvo, who founded the center in memory of his father.
Gehry’s wife, Berta Isabel Aguilera, is there, as is Ruvo’s wife, Camille, Mayor Oscar Goodman, artist Peter Alexander and Libby Lumpkin, who is the center’s art curator. There is back-patting, smiles, tears from Ruvo, nods and even a thumbs-up from Gehry to one his architects, Brian Zamora.
Gehry was commissioned to design the building in February 2006, 12 years after Ruvo’s father died of Alzheimer’s disease. He had been commuting to California for neurocognitive care because Southern Nevada had no center of its own.
Keep Memory Alive, the Ruvo Center’s foundation, has raised more than $60 million since its 1995 founding. The building broke ground in 2007. In February 2009, the Cleveland Clinic became its partner, and the medical institute, which provides clinical trials, diagnosis and treatment (among other things), opened in July 2009. Its warped and fluid stainless-steel exterior now anchors the southwest corner of Downtown’s 61 acres.
The events center, which is known as the Life Activity Center and can accommodate up to 1,000 guests, will be available for weddings, parties and galas as of May 1. Grand opening festivities in the center are planned for the end of May.
After hearing so much praise for the room, Gehry flew to town for a walk-through, followed by lunch in a conference room.
“We knew it would be a happy moment,” Lumpkin says. “It’s one of Frank’s best interiors ever. We feel it is a landmark in his career. It has more of a spiritual quality than any of us expected, including Frank.”
After viewing the activity center from various entrances, Gehry sits in a chair, looks at the unfinished floor and jokes, “Can we clean the floor a little?”