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Las Vegas Architect Aims For Sustainability Through His Work

Aaron Mayes/Originally photographed for Desert Companion magazine

'Gimmicky' is a word many would use to describe Las Vegas architecture. Maybe some, would even describe the Strip as tacky.

But Las Vegas is more than the Strip. It’s thousands of miles of desert landscape, suffering from a drought. 

So in recent years, architects have confronted the critical issue of sustainability.

No one more so than Eric Strain. He is owner and chief architect of the firm Assemblage-Studio.  


What is sustainable design?

You can look at it as either a passive system or as a very active system. In our work, we tend to look at it as a much more of a passive approach. Where we actually use the environment to the best ability and the best kind of lighting aspects of a residential home. And use thickened walls, long overhangs to shield that environment while we still let it in. 

Why are you committed to sustainability?

I don't think sustainability is new. I think that it has been remarketed in a new shiny program and now everybody talks about it. But when you look at very authentic work, sustainability has always been the primary ingredient of good design. 

What have you learned about sustainability by working as an architect in the desert?

That it is possible to live when it's 110 outside. We have used the work and taken references from the natural environment to create courtyards that become oasis that are naturally cooled through ventilation through some artificial means but allow the occupant of the home to actually live outside.

Is there something about Las Vegas that inspires you?

I'm truly inspired by our desert. I love being out in the middle of the desert. Maybe it goes back to growing up as a kid here building forts in the middle of the desert. But I have a very fond attraction to just being out in the middle of nowhere. 

What is the cost of building a sustainable home to the homeowner?

It's a balancing act. It's a matter of talking to the owner to decide what their goals are. What they really want to achieve with the home. So we can analyze where the dollars should be spent and where we can maybe play a little more with the budget. 

Are you seeing more requests for sustainable homes?

It's become I think a steady request. I think that a few years ago it became the new 'ism' that everybody was talking about. It was cool to be sustainable. I think today it's become a little more mainstream in everybody's thinking. 

Are the tract home builders take part in the sustainable home movement?

I think they've also become, because it has become so prevalent in the market and people talking about it. That I think you find the tract home industry maybe hasn't changed their design but they're looking at plumbing fixtures and appliances and window systems that are less energy absorbent. So they reach a certain reduction of energy use not necessary the creation of energy.

From Desert Companion: Big Ideas

Eric Strain, owner and chief architect, Assemblage-Studio

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