Bang goes Lord Foster's grand plan for Vegas

The British architect's towering vision is set to come tumbling down amid safety fears

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The Independent Culture

It was supposed to be the centrepiece of a $9bn (£5.4bn) development dominating the neon-laden Las Vegas strip. But the gamble failed, and now the towering structure designed by the British architect Norman Foster is destined to come crashing down in an explosion of dynamite and dust.

MGM Resorts International, the gambling mecca's largest casino operator, said implosion is the best solution for the Harmon building, a 26-storey empty shell which stands as a monument to the collapse in Nevada's property market. The Harmon was envisioned as a spectacular boutique hotel and condominium tower, the centrepiece of a sprawling complex of shopping, entertainment and a casino, known as CityCenter, jointly funded by the government of Dubai.

It was designed by Lord Foster's practice, Foster + Partners, which is responsible for a number of landmark buildings, including the Swiss Re tower – "The Gherkin" – in the City of London and the new Wembley Stadium.

But engineers discovered that the Harmon was riddled with construction flaws and the project missed its planned December 2009 opening. Fifteen floors of reinforcing steel had been wrongly installed before being encased in concrete. The planned 49 floors were cut back to 26 as the property market went into reverse and the building,which claimed the lives of six construction workers, never opened.

The value of the 67-acre CityCenter complex has been written down by billions of dollars. The Harmon's stylish oval cylinder lies empty and is currently sheathed by a huge advert for the Viva Elvis show. MGM Resorts is seeking permission to demolish the building. It would take another 18 months to put together a salvage plan, the company says, and engineers have advised that the Harmon's flaws mean that it would not survive an earthquake.

However, MGM's building contractors, Perini, say the building is structurally sound and the casino company's real motivation for seeking demolition is to "avoid adding the Harmon as an additional glut to other vacant properties in CityCenter".

MGM is seeking to retrieve $200m in fees paid to Perini, which it blames for the construction failures. Perini places the blame on design flaws in the original blueprint.

If the courts approve the demolition plan, it will present a challenge for Controlled Demolition Inc, the company chosen to perform the task. The building, passed by thousands of visitors each day, will have to be razed with minimal disruption to neighbouring buildings and traffic. In 1998, Controlled Demolition took down the J L Hudson Department Store in Detroit. At 2.2 million sq ft, it was the largest single building ever imploded.

Foster + Partners declined to comment yesterday.