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A Visit to the Vdara Death Ray

November 30, 2011

While here in Las Vegas for Autodesk University, I could not pass up the opportunity to walk down the Strip and around the corner to the Vdara Hotel, famous for the so-called Vdara Death Ray. It turns out the Death Ray is a result of reflections off the Vdara’s sister hotel, the Aria, located just across the street. At certain times during the summer, the windows on the 61st story of the Aria line up just right and focus all that Las Vegas sunshine right down onto the outdoor pool located on the Vdara’s third floor.

Death Ray

Poolside at the Vdara with the Aria beyond.

Stories abound of melted plastic cups and burned flesh. Exaggerated? Perhaps. But every one of the staff members I queried knew exactly what I was talking about.

Of course the Vdara is not the only recipient of unwanted solar energy from a not-so-well-thought-out neighbor. Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall required some judicious sandblasting to reduce reflections from the titanium mirror finish which caused extreme over-heating of apartments and sidewalks across the street.


The stepped planes of the Aria provide a nicely aligned mirror to warm the poolside guests at the Vdara

In the Vdara’s case, a little more design coordination would have helped, as the same developer built both hotels and opened the Aria just 15 days after the Vdara. The problem stems from the design of the Aria’s facade surface, which is stepped rather than a single smooth curve. It’s composed of a series of planer vertical strips arranged in a curved face, each stepped back from and slightly angled to the previous one. These highly mirrored strips reflect light downward onto the Vdara’s pool area.

The obvious question is, what went wrong in the design process? Assuming the designers were aware of the possibility of solar reflection, how could they have anticipated and corrected the problem in their design? One cannot, after all, anticipate or solve such a problem with the traditional solar shaders available on every modeling tool from SketchUp to Revit.

Enter my firm, Slate Shingle Studio. Using a combination of proprietary solar algorithms, parametric modeling and analysis, and the agility of a small computing house, we apply sophisticated computation techniques to specialized, small market problems. We seek aesthetic and environmental solutions for this kind of early design decision involving sun, wind and rain. An early design analysis could have foreseen this solar effect and saved hotel clerks, waiters and the Vdara’s insurance agents a lot of explaining.

Google Earth view of the Vdara, Aria and Death Ray

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