"Taking the slow lane in a town where "fast architecture" is the rule"
April 26, 2016
It’s great to have Architecture Las Vegas magazine back and to be included in the Chapter’s 60th Anniversary issue after a long hiatus. T.R. Witcher (contributing writer) and I discussed my career, our firm’s work, the vernacular of Las Vegas, and the future. Enjoy the article:
Dwayne Eshenbaugh arrived in Las Vegas in 1984, as a carpenter in a U.S. Air Force combat engineering squadron. The Pittsburgh-area, native was a talented artist who loved to build. When he left the Air Force, he took a job building townhomes and condos in Las Vegas, but knew he didn’t want to spend his whole career framing up homes in the dead of summer. So he enrolled at the School of Architecture at UNLV and began work as a runner for Lucchesi, Galati Architects.
He worked his way up the ranks, designing the seminal Desert Living Center at the Springs Preserve, and eventually was made an owner at the firm in 2002. But in 2005, he branched out to join a few other firms. “I had to have another experience ,” Eshenbaugh explains.
By the summer of 2009, he was planning to venture out on his own, and not a moment too soon; he got laid off that fall. Like others, it was a rough and humbling stretch, but he gradually got NOVUS off the ground with commissions ranging from the Sambalatte Coffee Shop off 215, a local HQ for renowned photographer Peter Lik, and a sleek HQ on the west side for an energy efficiency consulting company.
When asked about the visual style of Las Vegas, Eshenbaugh says he sees a fragmented vernacular. “The Strip has a certain set of rules that are very open-ended.” he says. “It’s a place for insane creativity where insane money is spent.”
But it also yields a fast-paced development aesthetic that has shaped the look of everything in the valley from schools to homes to rec centers. “When you’re in that mode, you don’t have time to develop really, really strong architecture.
But he sees the arrival of sophisticated large companies in the state like Tesla and Switch as a sign that architecture and design may be ready to move forward. It’s a combination of sophisticated clients, local government, builders and designers working together, and willing to look at projects differently.
“We have clients that don’t necessarily really care or communicate in a sustainable way. They want something down and dirty. Other clients are really forward-thinking, they really want to be innovative.” It’s not about making a statement, he adds, but about being responsible.
NOVUS is located in a handsome storefront on Charleston and Main. Despite his years here, Eshenbaugh didn’t know a lot about Downtown, but he knew he and his wife, an Art Consultant, wanted to be part of a more urban culture, and they live close to Downtown as well. “There’s truly a great sense of community down here with other design firms, cultural creatives, and like-minded business owners.”
Architecture Las Vegas is published twice annually by the Las Vegas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in partnership with Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion Magazine.