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Bitter Sweetness

During the 1940s, hundreds of nuclear tests took place on Yucca Flats, a site just outside Las Vegas. The Stardust Hotel in particular made the most of the public fascination with the nuclear, serving ‘atomic cocktails’ and hosting 'Ms. Atomic' beauty pageants, where entrants attached mushroom clouds to their swimming costumes or fashioned cloud-shaped headpieces. The people of America truly believed in a nuclear future.


Although the nuclear tests ended in the late 1990s and the Stardust closed down, this project aims to revive the passion that surrounded nuclear and the idea that the casino presented a possible future—to bring back the Stardust.

Initially the project revives Yucca Flats in Nevada, a radioactive landscape that has been long forgotten. I looked at ways of remediating and cleaning the site remotely using sunflowers: a machine plants, maintains and harvests the sunflowers; a system of meshes collects water and cloud seeding chemicals—used to control rainfall—are delivered by drones. Solar panels provide power and an army of drones act as mechanical farmers.

The second stage of the intervention is a sunflower processing plant: sunflowers are brought here and turned into clean biofuel. After roughly 100 years we are left with a radioactive-free landscape littered with sunflowers. Nuclear craters are healed with concrete caps, and the site is then ready for human inhabitation.

To create a Stardust 2, I wanted to look at the problems Las Vegas is currently facing. The main issue is water shortage: 90% of Vegas’s water is pumped directly from Lake Mead (Hoover Dam), but there’s been a drought for the past 15 years. To sustain Las Vegas and the dream, part of the new Stardust will recycle water. Wastewater will be pumped to the site and treated, while clean water will be pumped back into Las Vegas. The project won’t solve the water crisis in Vegas, but it will act as the first step towards a vision where Vegas would recycle 100% of its water.

To replace the nuclear propaganda, I turned to biotech. A biological research centre on the site shows visitors a possible biotech future, starting with three different kinds of organisms—bees, zebra mussels and silkworms. On-sitewater treatment will provide sufficient water for plants, creating an oasis in what was a radioactive landscape. I also wanted to look in to genetic modification. The use of GM crops has risen significantly over the years and similarly to nuclear technology, there are two sides to the argument: a bitter sweetness.

Overall, the project takes a speculative journey from the past to the future, tackling problems from the macro to the micro. The new Stardust will not only offer a vision of a possible future for the visitors of Las Vegas, but it will also be an oasis—a retreat for the people of America.

All images courtesy of Alan Ma:

The Bartlett School of Architecture, Unit 5.