As a Las Vegas native, I appreciate air conditioning and water far more than any other city dweller. Without these two indispensable items, Las Vegas would not exist. Our community has learned to be frugal with both. We understand our “place” to know how to manage water usage for a nearing 3 million people.
But there are still some areas we could improve in. This is where architects and engineers come into action. We want to design desert responding infrastructure. Our goal is to continue to educate the community on best practices in our regional climate.
I know Las Vegas can be a model city for desert architecture—we just have to go back to our roots.
Air conditioning is vital for our city. Without it, we could not handle the heat, not to mention host over a million tourists every year in our hotels and casinos. Yet, active mechanical systems are not the only methods to helping us stay cool in the desert. The earliest examples of passive cooling in the Las Vegas valley dates back to the first settlers.
They are the Anazani, or “Ancient Ones.” These were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians. These settlers used local materials to build up Mojave Pit Houses, made of mud, straw, and tall lumber. Together, these materials would create a strong brick-like material called adobe, which is an ideal building material for climates with hot days and cool nights.
As a high thermal mass material, adobe is able to mitigate exterior heat transfers throughout the day, and transfer stored embodied thermal energy for cool nights. Also, adobe contributes as a durable and long lasting material. Las Vegas’ Springs Preserve is one place where you can see this in person.
Fast forward several hundred years, our most common building material in Las Vegas isn’t always locally sourced, nor does it makes sense for our climate. With the advent and rise of the casino industry, we have flourished as a major metropolitan city. But we have misplaced our knowledge for responsive desert architecture. Instead, we have built intensive active systems to support the bloodline of our economy, e.g. The Strip.
Moving forward, we should be learning from our past to inform the future. For example, using adobe like the ancestral Puebloans. As a student, and future designer, I would like to see Las Vegas grow with site specific architecture and design. I know Las Vegas can be a model city for desert architecture—we just have to go back to our roots.
Image Credit: UNLV Special Collections, Photograph of Elbert Edwards and unidentified man standing in a dry canal bed, Moapa Valley, circa 1948