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November 28, 2021

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Gehry’s design elevates awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, research

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Exterior

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Interior

As the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute exterior nears completion, the interior comes to life with intention. Details including colors, the use of natural light and the comfort of moving through the spaces were planned specifically for patients suffering from Alzheimers and other brain illnesses, seen in the Frank Gehry building in Las Vegas on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Larry Ruvo profile

Larry Ruvo relaxes during a break while interviewing Feb. 9 with ABC's 20/20 for a piece to air on the news magazine show March 6. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Staff

President and CEO of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, poses at the institute on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute

The Lou Ruvo Brain Institute began garnering attention the moment Frank Gehry unveiled his design for it, three years ago this month. Now under construction, the pavilion’s undulating roof is reaching as high as a seven-story building, being assembled like some giant, contorted jigsaw puzzle: 550 interlocking stainless steel pieces, no two alike and at all sorts of angles.

But for all of its architectural daring, Gehry’s design is sensitive to Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers. They will enter from the other side of the facility. The more conventional front entrance leads to a reception area, but inside the building there are no waiting rooms, at Larry Ruvo’s request.

Ruvo, who founded the brain institute in memory of his father, Lou, said one of the worst days of his life was when his father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and had to sit in a waiting room with patients who were in advanced stages of the disease. One patient was in diapers, another was unable to hold up his head.

Ruvo pledged to never mingle patients at various stages of the disease. So at the Ruvo clinic, a valet will greet patients and call ahead so they can be immediately ushered to their rooms. Hallways will be muted in appearance, using mostly natural light and soft colors to create a calming environment rather than the sterile feeling of a typical clinic.

Ruvo’s campaign to care for victims of Alzheimer’s and dementia and to find a cure for the disease advances significantly today with news of its partnership with the Cleveland Clinic. That institution will run the clinical and research operations of the organization, renamed the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Gehry plays a role in the organization’s strategy that is both sublime and sensible. Already, the 65,000-square-foot building is attracting fans of Gehry architecture, and it will be a tourist attraction when it opens this year.

Gehry’s dramatic design was instrumental in promoting the dream of Ruvo, a Las Vegas businessman and philanthropist. Ruvo wanted to elevate the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with research and through a patient- and caregiver-centered approach to treatment. But he had a hard time attracting the attention of philanthropists and scientists until Gehry designed the dramatic building to serve as an icon for brain research, the same way his acclaimed design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is synonymous with world-class music.

Officials of Keep Memory Alive, the nonprofit organization that’s the fundraising and advocacy arm of the Ruvo Center, hope to franchise the iconic building — making it the signature symbol for the fight against brain disorders. They plan to have Gehry design smaller clinics, reminiscent of the Las Vegas building, to be built in cities around the world.

“You need to have an icon, a statement that this is a disease that has to be recognized,” Dr. Zaven Khachaturian said of the Gehry building. Khachaturian, considered the “Father of Alzheimer’s research,” has served as president and chief executive of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute.

The business side of the $100 million facility, at the northeast corner of Grand Central Parkway and Bonneville Avenue, looks on the outside like five stories of stacked — and not perfectly aligned — building blocks. It houses 27 patient suites suitable for examinations and interviews, a blood lab, neuroimaging rooms and research labs. The facility will be a one-stop shop with every service necessary for patients with brain disorders and their caregivers.

The walls of the clinic will be adorned with art by top international artists who want to hang their work in a Gehry building. Half of the proceeds from the sale of the pieces will go toward the institute’s mission, Ruvo said.

Gehry’s fingerprint extends to the building’s most intimate details — down to the chairs, dinnerware and the hue of the paint.

The institute will also feature a “Museum of the Mind,” an interactive learning center focused on the brain.

The largest public area in the facility is the pavilion — the space beneath the stainless steel ceiling that rises and falls like a turbulent ocean. The area will accommodate 900 people for receptions and be available for rent as a meeting space. In the wings is a Wolfgang Puck cafe and catering kitchen.

Acoustics have been designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, who designed the acoustics in the Disney concert hall.

All facility rental fees will be tax deductible because the money will be used for neurological research.

Gehry said he agreed to design the facility for Ruvo because he has close friends who are at risk for such hereditary diseases as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s, and he has been a passionate advocate in the fight against brain disorders.

“I’ve gotten to know the scientists and watch the growth, and I’ve been part of the fundraising,” Gehry said. “It’s an issue I believe in, and I’m committed to it.”

Gehry said he was challenged by Ruvo and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman to design something that will be unique in Las Vegas — a city known for its extreme architecture. When it’s finished, the building will be more than a mere oddity, he promised.

“It will have a beautiful — extraordinary — interior,” Gehry said. “Once it is built, people will understand that it’s not just a frivolity.”

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