It is, therefore of course, simply out of the question for me to deliberately take any drug that would result in hallucinations for 6 to 14 hours. I have found through decades of trial and error testing (which has resulted mostly in errors) that human consciousness is an extremely tender thing. Any damage to the brain, this most mysterious, wonderful organ of ours, whether from a disease, injury, or personal circumstance is a terrible tragedy.
Almost every other architecture blogger tiptoed around Frank Gehry’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health back in the spring. I tried to sit this one out, dear reader, because my immediate reaction to the highly warped metal grid that composes its façade was that it was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to avoid seeing when I decided as a youngster that I would never take LSD. I really did want to ignore it, but the experience of seeing it in person last May continues to haunt me.
Remember the public service ads with the skillet which proclaimed “This is your brain on drugs”? Okay, Ruvo is your brain–as a giant plastic spatula melted after being left too long on a hot waffle iron, turned out in titanium, brush-finished, set in a depressing district of vacant Las Vegas lots amongst outlet stores, creepy last-chance casinos, a bizarre cowboy-bunkhouse-inspired city manager’s office, and the equally puzzling World Market Center–on drugs. I can think of other uses for which this would be brilliant—ummm—Plastic Man's house, or how about headquarters for the Halitosis Association or the United Rubber Workers of America? But this?
No one at the Keep Memory Alive Foundation, which supports the Ruvo Center, could possibly be insensitive to the horrible consequences of fractured cognition. They can’t be. I read somewhere that Gehry only agreed to design this building if Huntington’s Disease was added the list of illnesses the organization researches. And, I thought at first the people involved with the design of the center’s event space (the rest of Ruvo is fairly innocuous) could never have said to Mr Gehry, “let’s do something that would emphasize the horror of brain damage by illustrating what it is like for someone’s perception to be in the midst of being totally destroyed. It will be cool!"
I didn't think so but after I checked out the downloadable pdf at the bottom of this Keep Memory Alive web page, "Read more on Gehry's Design and Its Impact as a Marketing Tool," I wasn't so sure anymore. This bit of puffery goes so far as to quote the LA Weekly's architecture reporter Hugh Hart who wrote, "There's not a stitch of kitsch to be found in the resort town's latest iteration of destination buildings."
In this instance, I beg to differ.
But it has slowly dawned on me that evoking disasterous brain damage is precisely the point here. The part of the building housed by this structure is often used for “star-studded galas,” according to its Wikipedia entry. And if you want to energize a crew of star studs and socialites for fundraising, what better way is there than to be sure your building embodies the excruciating anguish caused by diseases for which there is no cure?
But, isn't this most obvious metaphor a no-brainer, so to speak?
Well obviously. But let's say that you do want to make architecture compel people to dig deep. You could probably not find a better way to do it than Gehry has here. In a town where the sole purpose of miles of curious facades is to enable the businesses behind them to anesthetize the brains of the not-so-bright so their pockets may more swiftly and deftly be emptied, Ruvo might be the only place where what you see is what you get. On the other hand, as I have so often said, true insanity is never just skin deep.
I’ve been pretty ambivalent about Mr. Gehry’s work from the beginning, but I am sure about this piece. There is no disputing that this multistory version of a mental house of cards frozen in the midst of its implosion is certainly powerful. But if at some time I finally do start to lose it (which could be any day now) please don’t bring me here. The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health scares me.
“When you bring an act into this town, you want to bring it in heavy. Don't waste any time with cheap shucks and misdemeanors. Go straight for the jugular.” —Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
Ruvo Center illustrations from Wikipedia Commons. Your Brain on Drugs illustration from Partnership for a Drug Free America.