Dr. vogelzang with patient

Health murren
Lust over three years ago, Nevada Cancer Institute (NVCI) was little more than an idea shared by a small group led by husband and wife Jim and Heather Murren. Both of their families had been touched by cancer, and each saw an immediate need to help Nevada create what many said was impossible: a world-class cancer research and treatment facility in Las Vegas.

“Jim and I had both grown up in the eastern United States, where world-class healthcare was just a car drive away,” says Heather Murren, CFA, president and CEO of NVCI. But this was not the case in Nevada. As its population exploded during the 1990s, it became apparent that more infrastructure was needed to address its growing needs. The small, Murren-led group decided to tackle cancer treatment and research as one way of moving ahead.

“Many said that it could not be done,” recalls Murren. “We're a young community, and not known for being a hotbed of research. But being young can be an advantage: We had a blank sheet of paper. We could design and build a facility based on lessons learned from past cancer cen-ters. Better yet, we could improve upon them.

“We didn't want our building to feel like a sterile clinic, and we wanted to take advantage of all the expertise we could find,” Murren continues. “We visited and sought the advice of patients, cancer centers, physicians, researchers, and families throughout the country on what they felt was most important to provide in a cancer center.” It became clear that the greatest resource in developing a place that felt less like a clinic and more like an experience was right in their own backyard.

The planners turned to Las Vegas resort designer/builder Marnell Corrao Associates. With more than 30 years' experience designing and building some of Las Vegas's most luxurious and well-known resorts, including Bellagio, the Mirage, and Wynn Las Vegas, Marnell Corrao was the perfect partner to help address the hospitality needs of the facility. As an extension of its commitment, this highly accomplished firm approached its longtime subcontracting part-ners for reduced rates and value-added add-ons.

“We were honored and excited to be a part of this project,” says Brett Ewing, Marnell Corrao's president of architecture. “We felt we could provide a more intimate, subtle experience for Nevada Cancer Institute patients and employees while still providing the tools and feel of a world-class institution. I believe we succeeded.”

A Unique Location

Nestled just off the I-215 freeway in Summerlin South (a premier Las Vegas bedroom community), NVCI's research and care center, located at the distinctive address of One Breakthrough Way, offers easy access to patients while maintaining enough open space for future expansions (figure 1). The $52-million, 142,000-square-foot facility is part of a master-planned 61-acre “wellness” concept, six acres of which were donated by The Howard Hughes Corporation/Rouse Company. Located near the crest of a suburban hill, the facility has unobstructed views of the entire valley, including the Las Vegas Strip to the east and the Spring Mountain range—which includes Red Rock Canyon—to the west.

“We made sure that patients, physicians, and researchers all had beautiful views of the Las Vegas area,” says Murren. “The desert can be a beautiful place, with wide open blue skies and amazing topography.” A healing garden (figure 2) connects this landscape with the open-feeling interior.

The Approach

“The focus of any medical facility should always be the patient. Someone going through a trying time with cancer should never feel helpless,” notes Ewing. “No one wants to need to visit a place like this. Creating a comfortable, accessible, and even endearing facility is paramount to creating a positive experience.”

The goal was to avoid the feel of the traditional healthcare setting (note that NVCI is not a hospital, providing outpatient care only). Yet NVCI needed to be capable of conducting clinical trials and medical, oncology, and radiation research, and offer digital-imaging resources such as PET/CT, MRI, ultrasound, nuclear medicine mammography, a linear accelerator (figure 3), and x-rays. “They asked for a building that could house cutting-edge technology to help Nevadans in a way that's never been seen in our state,” remembers Ewing. “Our task was to make sure all the pieces fit into a wonderful layout.”

“The facility is very user-friendly from both a patient and researcher/physician perspective,” say Nicholas Vogelzang, MD, director of NVCI. “It is rare to be a researcher and be able to help design your work space, especially in cancer research. This facility is as accommodating as any cancer center in the world.” It also has helped Dr. Vogelzang recruit leading cancer clinicians from throughout the United States.

In addition, NVCI's center was designed to support many functions, including patient care, educational seminars (figure 4), prevention research, supportive programs, and patient counseling. The idea is not to simply treat and care for cancer, but to provide patients with the personal tools necessary to navigate very intimidating waters.

Everything in the building was designed to flow in such a manner that it almost became automated. Valet service is available for patients' cars, and patients check in at the front desk, where they are escorted to their appointment. If there is time between various appointments, patients have the option of taking advantage of various amenities around the building to help them relax (figure 5).

“We have a Lance Armstrong Foundation Survivorship Center, a meditation room (figure 6), and an appearance center named Illuminations for cosmetic needs,” notes Murren. “We wanted to design the center so even the little things are taken care of. If patients are worried about what lies ahead, we can inform them of the facts. If they want to browse the Web while in chemotherapy, we have a wireless Internet connection so they can do just that. We tried to think of everything they could possibly need.”

The Feel

Marnell Corrao understood that to truly maximize NVCI's unique features, the interior design needed to be both reassuring and inviting. “Patients needed to feel a sense of peace from the moment they walk through our doors,” Ewing explains. “Nevada is a desert, and so sunlight and open elements should be inherent to a medical facility's design here. We used red split-face stone to reflect nearby Red Rock Canyon and the warm desert landscape. We took advantage of natural sunlight to create shadows on panels that convey a feeling of strength to our visitors.”

The use of floor-to-ceiling windows offers breathtaking views of the Las Vegas Strip and surrounding valley from the third floor infusion suite (figure 7). “We don't use direct lighting,” notes Murren. “Many of our patients recline in chairs for their treatments, and floor-to-ceiling windows give them the opportunity to watch the mountains or even the lights of the Strip from a comfortable position.”

Visual aids are also important to the center's feel—for example, NVCI is home to a 200-piece art collection hung throughout the facility. Natural stone materials and warm colors such as beige and cream highlight the three-story lobby and accent a 30-foot waterwall. Nearby is an elegant reception area (figure 8), and an 18-foot, 1,000-pound glass chandelier by famed artist Dale Chihuly greets everyone who enters the main lobby (figure 9).

“The beauty of art and creation touches each and every one of us,” Chihuly notes. “Nevada Cancer Institute is creating a place that is more than just a research facility. It is creating a place that lives, breathes, and brings with it a sense of optimism and beauty.”


For those fighting cancer, NVCI is a symbol of continued hope and support. It provides a place to get the best possible assistance from world-renowned physicians and a caring staff, as well as encouragement and camaraderie from fellow patients. Everyone involved shares a common goal: to help defeat cancer.

All of which means Las Vegas is no longer simply a town for fun-seekers and high rollers. Today, Nevada Cancer Institute offers a setting for victory over life-threatening disease and is serving as a magnet to attract other life, health, and biotech companies to southern Nevada. HD

Photos courtesy of Nevada Cancer Institute, Las Vegas.