Looking back at the Fontainebleau Las Vegas' origins

January 23, 2024

James Horvath, AIA Partner, Executive Vice President - Architecture and Finance at Bergman, Walls & Associates, describes what it was like to be part of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas' original concept, as well as its finishing touches before completion.

What was the original design process like for the Fontainebleau Las Vegas back in the early 2000s?

The original concept for the site was themed. Later, the owner wanted a more contemporary design tied in with their purchase of the original Fontainebleau in Miami. They hired us, along with Carlos Zapata and others, to collaborate on the new design that largely resulted in the exterior just completed, with the exception of the porte-cochére. Core and Shell construction commenced while the venues were being designed. Construction ceased prior to the completion of the design and documentation to be picked up again, resulting in the fulfilment of the originally conceived project.

How much inspiration was taken from the Fontainebleau Miami Beach?

As the Las Vegas Fontainebleau is the second property for the brand, several elements from the original were used for inspiration. Locations like Chez Bon Bon, La Cote and Morris & Co were all adapted for Las Vegas. Design elements from within the lobby by Morris Lapidus were modified, like the columns which are similar throughout the casino.

What was your experience like working with Carlos Zapata Studios?

Working with Carlos and his studio was an incredible collaboration. When the recent project was restarted, Carlos insisted on modifying the porte-cochere and updating the design. The new design is an airy sculptural structure that gracefully spans over the main entrance to the hotel. The end product may seem simple, but Carlos Zapata Studio worked through a complex structural system to span from one side of the property to the other.

How did it feel when the construction project had to be abandoned? Did you foresee the property going this many years before completion?

When any project is put on hold, there is an anxious anticipation for when it will restart. No one planned for the amount of years the project would wait to be finalized but the excitement throughout the city for the completion is overwhelming.

If you were given the opportunity to design The Fontainebleau Las Vegas today, would you do anything differently from its original plans?

Las Vegas is an ever-changing city; that is one of the unique challenges when designing a project that will have longevity. One change from the original design would have been to incorporate ride share as well as the Vegas Loop by the Boring Company. Both are changes that could not have been anticipated when the project started but are modifications that have been accommodated as the project was finalized.

What is your favorite element included in the architecture of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas?

One of my favorite elements has been the use of the brand logo, a bow tie, within the design. Throughout the design of the architecture, furniture and finishes, guests will find bow ties sometimes in obvious form and sometimes abstracted slightly. Around the two-story casino is a background wall element that has a subtle bow tie pattern that is created in the negative relief on the wall and highlighted through uplighting.

With The Strip and Downtown both absolutely full of casinos and entertainment options, do you think Las Vegas will see a new up-and-coming area emerge? If so, where within the city could it be? Or would somewhere new be better?

Las Vegas has always been a city that can reinvent itself, and to say the Strip and Downtown are absolutely full is a broad assumption. I do believe other areas south of the Strip will start to develop and in time they could eventually be merged with the existing Strip.

James P. Horvath, AIA, has more than 20 years of experience in hospitality, retail and casino resort architecture and interiors. His training and experience while with the Walt Disney Company provided insight to both hospitality operations and guest relations services, which he continues to apply to his design, planning and programming of projects throughout the US. As the 2023 American Institute of Architects Las Vegas President, 2022 Past President and President Elect, a member of the AIA Las Vegas Board of Directors and an active member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) for 19 years, James enjoys mentoring interns on the path to architectural licensure. Becoming a Partner at BWA in 2019, he has played a broad role in shaping the Strip, leading design and documentation teams in the development of some of its most iconic landmarks


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