More than 45 years after the postmodernist manifesto “Learning from Las Vegas” sparked controversy in the architectural community, Jennifer Turchin said there’s still plenty to learn about Southern Nevada.
The book, by architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, called upon their contemporaries to set aside egoism in favor of a more egalitarian approach to buildings. Their thesis still comes up in conversations, and even served as the inspiration for an annual conference Turchin organized last year for the American Institute of Architects Western Mountain Region.
Currently president of the AIA Las Vegas chapter, Turchin titled the event “Learning More from Las Vegas.” Part of the gathering included a tour of Ascaya Inspiration Homes in Henderson, which exemplifies a modern contemporary style that is becoming increasingly popular in the luxury market.
“Things work here for architecture that don’t work anywhere else,” Turchin said. “We’re the birthplace of the neon sign and now it’s really taken to a new level with electronics and drones and all the technology,” Turchin said. “There are a lot of things people are willing to be inventive with solutions for big projects that you might not see in other places.” While many of the typical single-family homes designed in Las Vegas are similar to what’s seen in the rest of the Southwest, Turchin said there are “some amazingly cool high-end residential projects.”
Newly constructed Las Vegas luxury homes are recognized for a modern approach with clean lines that maximize views of the expansive desert landscape. Technically advanced lighting and glazing options optimized for sun and heat also are redefining the look and feel of desert architecture, Turchin said. The aesthetic is a more natural fit for the valley than homes with exaggerated Mediterranean motifs.
“We’re not the Mediterranean. Let us build desert-appropriate homes like these new modern ones that have a lot of shade and white roofs to keep the sun reflecting versus coming in the house,” she said. “There’s more of a focus on high-end glass and resisting heat and integrated shade controls and definitely looking more at overhangs that allow the lower winter sun in and keep the high summer sun out. There’s also desert landscaping and none of the grass that we used to see.”
The 36-year-old Montana native also represents a different kind of change herself. She’s only the second woman president in the 62-year history of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Institute of Architects and believes she’s the only female architect business owner doing green building consulting. In 2009 she opened her own company, the Coda Group, another rarity in a male-dominated business.
Turchin also has served on the U.S. Green Building Council and the AIA’s Committee on the Environment, which has sponsored programs such as 2030 — a yearlong education program for architects and engineers about using more sustainable materials for projects.
“I think there’s a general perception that Las Vegas isn’t a very sustainable location or that people don’t care about sustainability,” Turchin said. “They’re wrong about that. The big casinos have impactful green building programs. It’s just not the sexy side of Las Vegas to talk about water and energy savings, composting or recycling. People don’t come to Vegas to hear about that because they’re here to visit and suspend reality. I think many companies here are doing a lot more than people realize.”