City of Dreams : The Imaginary Bubble of Yin
While skimming along the earliest stages of sleep, a gaggle of increasingly passive neurons gathered into a bubble of subconscious thought which woke me with an epiphanic start. Wide eyed yet comatose, I processed these visions... connecting seemingly disparate ideas and concepts into a giant patch bay symphony that would make Milton Babbitt proud. I immediately began to wonder if I should spring from the coziness of my bed, to the nearest pen, crayon or keyboard and furiously attempt to document this dream of City of Dreams.
That it took my delving into pre-sleep to become calm enough to digest a large meal of information isn't surprising. Rising from dream state to allay worry or execute the occasional brainstorm is a semi-regular experience, as with anyone who's ever suffered from perpetual responsibility, hyperactivity or any flavor of creative mania. However, a Pope-sized, pillow top revelation of the incandescent filament firing variety is few and far between for this Beethoven of Baccarat - usually the worry wart scares me out of the sack.
That City of Dreams unveiled itself to me while actually engaged one of my own, is metaphysical irony. Or magic. Or both. Or I need a vacation. It isn't every day that one solves a Rubix cube, let alone without a dime store pamphlet, a Ph.D in mathematics, or an exacto knife. While this marvel isn't nearly as grand as Hendrix' sublime Machine Gun or a brain busting peek into the mind of Mondriaan via the evolutionary sketches for Broadway Boogie Woogie (which until relatively recently, hung above the Tower Suites concierge desk at Wynn Las Vegas) it's still quite juicy, at least if you've got a thang for the barely paved crossroads of modern architecture and casino showmanship.
The world has changed since the golden age of 'themed' casino resorts (1988-2001). The Mirage kicked off the theme boom, followed by a dozen or so mini-wonderlands, including Excalibur, MGM Grand, Luxor, New York-New York, Treasure Island, Paris, Bellagio, a redesigned Aladdin and finally The Venetian, which has since added two similarly themed towers - the Venezia and a full-scale resort add-on, The Palazzo in 2007.
In retrospect, heavy dependence on thematic stricture proved to be a double edged sword. On one side, the continual unveiling of faux-filltheblank fueled PR machines which churning out "come see the latest resort" missives, but the resorts themselves - at least ones of gaudier decadence - have proven to have the shelf life of a Twinkie, long but not timeless. The first nails in the theme coffin were firmly planted in April 2004 with the grand opening of Wynn Las Vegas, with it's burial ongoing daily with every shovel of dirt moved at CityCenter.
Apparently, Sheldon Adelson - chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, owners of the Venetian LV and Macau(o) outposts - wasn't cc:'d.
Shortly after the initial three concessions were granted to SJM, Wynn Resorts and a combined Galaxy/Las Vegas Sands bid, the Galaxy/LVS partnership unraveled. LVS was keen on building out their vision for Macau and Cotai as quickly as possible, while Galaxy lobbied for a more conservative, measured approach. At stalemate, the Macau government invented 'subconcessions' and gave Galaxy the concession and LVS the subconcession. This gave the other two concessioners the right to sell a subconcession to the bidder of their choosing. SJM sold its subconcession to Pansy Ho, who opted to go 50/50 with MGMMirage in a new venture, MGM Grand Paradise. Wynn Resorts sold their subconcession to Melco PBL for $900M to the delight of WYNN shareholders everywhere.
The end result was that Las Vegas Sands Corp was freed from its ties with Galaxy and immediately began freight training its plans for Macau. Sands Macao, sans hotel, opened in May 2004 at a paltry initial investment of $240 million dollars - about 2/3 of the cost to build and open the Vegas Monte Carlo in 1993!.
The Cotai Strip mega project proved to be a bit more of a bug bear, with plot divisions, hotel partnerships and a much larger master plan to consider. It made perfect sense for LVS to skip the design and discovery portion of their Cotai flagship property's development process and opt to transplant the Venetian to the Cotai bog.
The Venetian Macao - which is the largest integrated casino resort in the known universe - was built in two years, cost $2.8 billion dollars and hard opened without a hitch - something LVS isn't particularly known to do. For those who've never seen the Las Vegas version of the Venetian chain, the Venetian Macao surely a marvel to behold, particularly its ginormity. From the frescoes to the piazettas to the Campanile to the golden globe sculpture in the lobby to the Q-Bert marble floor hallway to the piped in light classical music to the split level 'suites,' the Venetian Macao is a carbon copy of the carbon copy of Venice's famous architectural landmarks. Dipped in hoisin sauce. The Venetian Macao is just that - The Venetian, in Macau.
Which elliptically brings us to the basic premise of this discourse, what exactly is City of Dreams. Is it an abstracted amalgamation of asymmetrical architectural forms a la the 'other' city currently shooting skyward on the 'other' strip - City Center? Or is it a watered down Excalibur which exchanges the kitch of knaves and wenches for Neptunes and mermaids?
From what I can gather - sourced from confidential development brochures & architectural renderings as well as a few hours worth of discussions with representatives from Melco PBL Entertainment and my imagination - City of Dreams is a literal, literary, abstract theme, stewed in subtle cauldron of mythology, philosophy and Chinese astrology, wrapped up in a Giant Bubble of Yin.
Exactly. And therein lies the truest beauty of City of Dreams' grail of abstraction.
L to R : Crown Towers, Cotai (rain), Hard Rock Cotai (spout), Grand Hyatt Cotai I (wave), Grand Hyatt Cotai II (waterfall)
On the surface, City of Dreams is a 'water' themed resort. Even a cursory look at four of the five architecturally distilled towers reveals its aquatic intentions - marvelously, creatively and with great drama and spectacle. These four architectural components contain direct references to naturally occurring motion states of water. The last of City of Dreams' quintet of towers - while rendered - is not of a design that could be described as fait accompli. By design or accident, these water energy conduits all flow from the Cotai skyline back into land which - before it's reclamation - was water. It's a strong metaphor, intended or not, and fitting for these times of 'green-ness' whether or not City of Dreams' has the ability to pass the Chinese equivalent of LEED muster.
As with all buildings constructed within earshot of Chinese influence - particularly, mojo-obsessed baccarat fiends - the non-scientific, yet true tenets of Feng Shui, philosophy, astrology and the symbology of fortune and luck are deciding factors in its design. Whereas the Venetian or other non-malleable design forms - ostensibly purloined from geohistory - have defined themselves via postmodernist neo-whateverism. Whatever being a variable deduced by evaluating the architectural style of the theme being acquired - ie. medieval for Excalibur, Egyptian for Luxor, ancient Roman for Caesars Palace, etc..
When a resort applies a specific thematic laurel, the amount of wiggle room available to assuage Chinese architectural voodoo becomes an AutoCADist's albatross, particular during meetings with Feng Shui conjuring consultancies.
By adopting a simple, natural, amorphic theme - water - City of Dreams becomes a canvas upon which a universe of psycho-scientific, spiritual, elemental and mythological images can be painted. It's definition is soley in the eyes, mind and soul of the visitor, in very much the same way as we all have our own subconscious vision-realities : dreams.
In Chinese philosophy, water is related to the yin, the feminine half of the Yin-Yang relationship. Water is also defined by gravity - it flexibly takes the shape of the containers that hold it, always flows downhill, and can forcefully or delicately destroy anything in its way. Water also travels in waves, which are directly related to the position of the moon, which represents the Qi - the basic life force energy which permeates everything (feng shui). When heated, water becomes air; when cooled below freezing becomes hard as earth. Taoists believe that water represents intelligence and wisdom although an overabundance may cause difficulty making decisions. Those born under the sign of Pisces (the fish) are believed to have issues with decisionmaking. Melco PBL partner James Packer is a Virgo, Lawrence Ho's birthday hasn't entered public record and inquiries to Melco PBL have gone unanswered. A truly unfortunate dead end.
The name City of Dreams references a fabled city buried beneath Maccu Piccu. Mythological locations occupy large quadrant in the global casino theme pantheon, including Xanadu - a non-starter mid-1970's intended for the plot now occupied by Excalibur, Shangri-La - two doors down from City of Dreams, Atlantis - in Reno or Bahamas and by extension the Mirage. Designing resorts with the intention to transport visitors to a state of relaxation via the use of a fictional locale is certainly not groundbreaking, but basing a resort on an elemental theme that is inextricably linked to the survival and destruction of universal life as we think we know it is visionary in its powerful vagueness.
The initial concept of City of Dreams being an underwater casino proved itself to be a nonstarter, mostly likely due to prohibitive costs associated with building and maintaining such feats of engineering. The risk of creating a gambling version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea teeming with humidity, odor and a side order of claustrophobia would surely scare most guests away. What Melco PBL does have planned for its gaming area is currently as nebulous as its name. The design and concept of the casino itself - other than the initial proclamations of its underwater-ness - are being guarded with utmost secrecy. Access to the design specs, features, and renderings are restricted to the highest level executive team, key designers (hunch: Steelman Partners) and a fully vetted inner circle of construction managers.
All fanciful aesthetic ponderances aside, the slowly de-blurring vision of City of Dreams illustrates the deepening chasm between Melco PBL's highly intelligent inventiveness and the entrepreneurs building many of the properties which surround it. As the information generation grows older and becomes the main demographic of Macau visitors, it is doubtful that their desires for desire will be satiated by traipsing through a Vivaldi-al-Fresco promenade at the Venetian Macao - or any obvious theme for that matter.
Only time will tell if City of Dreams will transport its visitors to an idyllic plane of Utopian possibility, a place where dreams come true.
City of Dreams is scheduled to open in the first half of 2009.