-By Elena Castriota
Building an 1800s-style building in the 21st century with traditional materials would be an impossible task for many large-scale developers, but not for Yohan Lowie. The Israeli-born architect moved to the United States in 1986 and has been a permanent fixture in Las Vegas since the early ‘90s, and as the CEO and founder of EHB Companies—along with co-founders Paul and Vickie DeHart—EHB’s group of real estate development and building companies are responsible for erecting landscape-changing Las Vegas properties such as One Queensridge Place, Tivoli Village and the Sahara Center.
EHB’s newest fete—the Nevada Supreme and Appellate Court Building, located on the corner of Clark and Fourth Streets in Las Vegas—was completed in late 2016, a daresay stone’s throw more than a year after breaking ground. The structure, described by Lowie as the pinnacle of his career, features EHB Company’s signature stone façade and a thoughtful dedication to the state of Nevada, to Washington, D.C., and to neoclassical architecture itself.
Lowie and company travelled to Europe and elsewhere around the world to find the traditional materials used throughout history when constructing these grand buildings during centuries of yore. Inspired details include a bronze, handmade sculpture of Lady Justice; stained-glass skylights reminiscent of the Library of Congress; and custom-built chandeliers. Incredibly, while designed and developed as a 19th century structure, the building has achieved the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standard here in the 21st century…making Lowie’s courthouse a perfect metaphor for the balancing of past and present that Lady Liberty knows all too well.
Vegas Legal Magazine: Anyone familiar with your work knows you as an architect and developer, but what is something most people don’t know about you?
Yohan Lowie: Most people think I’m a great architect, but in fact, I have no formal training in architecture, drafting or manufacturing. All the skills I have gained are from on-the-job training, and are G-d’s gift. As a young man, I was always fascinated with buildings and structures, especially the old ones—centuries- or thousand-year-old stone buildings—and I always imagined, “What are they for? Who designed and built them? Who occupied them, and how is it possible that they have lasted for such a long time and probably will for centuries more after we are all gone?”
I came to Las Vegas in the early ‘90s to build one simple, small house, to learn “how to” [do it]. Since then I’ve found myself in the building trade ever since. In the mid ‘90s I met Paul and Vickie DeHart and we formed development and construction companies together, which in later years became known as “EHB Companies.” In the beginning, Vickie ran our office, Paul ran the site and construction, and I managed the development and business aspects. In 1998, we built our first house that was covered with quarried stone. Ever since, every structure we have erected has significant natural stone content.
VLM: What inspired your design of the Nevada Supreme and Appellate Court Building and what do you hope people will take away from it when the see and experience it?
YL: In the first design run (in late spring of 2015), the idea of the court space was [to place it] atop an 18-story high-rise building, occupying the top two floors. I had designed the space and presented it to the court, but after a few revisions, I changed direction. I understood that this unique opportunity of designing the Supreme Court building is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and must have a special, very special presentation to the public, both as an iconic landmark and as the highest office in our state. So I had made up my mind to build a neoclassical building that would encapsulate the permanence, power and graciousness of the law and the institution.
On July 4, 2015, I had the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. My son, who works at one of the highest offices there, was able to take me to places the public can’t usually visit and see in the most important buildings.
That trip solidified for me the exterior material selections for our building, and the interior theme. I concluded that we must use the white stone that covers most of our nation’s monuments; the stained leaded glass ceiling design from the Library of Congress rotunda; and the bronze and alabaster chandeliers from the Library of Congress’s main hall. Wood type and color selection would come from the original 19th century Supreme Court that is located in the basement of the Library of Congress building. And all other details would be reminiscent of the period of construction that our capital institution’s buildings and monuments were built.
VLM: Talk about the collaborative effort between your company, the Supreme Court, and Nevada’s government, in the vision, design and development of this building. There was much you had to balance….
YL: The involvement from the court was primarily with Chief Justice James Hardesty, who was appointed by the court and legislatures to solely negotiate the contract and oversee the design and the construction of the project. In fact, the hours we spent together understanding the needs of the court justices, appeal court judges, court staff, security, and public, inspired me to come up with the interior floor plan. For that, I had to imagine myself walking and using the building as if I was one of its occupants, and how it would be best designed to answer their needs. Many aspects of the building, like the rotunda—a public space for gatherings, and for court events on a grand, 19th century scale—were as result of this exercise.
I can safely say that without Chief Justice James Hardesty’s involvement on the business level, and with his direction on the design and his problem solving abilities, this building would not have been built…or built to the shape, form and standards of this finished product.
VLM: Talk about your process a little. Are there special considerations you take into account when designing and building a public building as opposed to private development?
YL: Generally, with designing the architecture of a public building, your most important focus is the business interaction between the public and the officials. Choice of location, accessibility, traffic flow, building circulation, security, and public safety are also factors.
In this building, however, many more parameters had to be considered, such as how to tie the structural design to the building’s use, and how to connect it to our country and state in a way that would honor both. We created multiple connective ties…for example, by carving, in stone, the 50 stars representing the states of the union at the top of the gable…just beneath our national and state flags. We also created an eave detail that was carved into the marble and incorporated all 17 Nevada county seals; the Supreme Court seal; the State of Nevada seal. We also included the American wreath, made out of the American oak tree (which signifies permanence) and the olive branch (which signifies peace).
All of that aligned in a sequential presentation of public belonging, along with a graceful, 14-foot bronze Lady Justice statue, with her Scale of Justice in one hand and her drawn sword in the other, ready to strike at injustice. Our Lady Justice was not as passive as the original mythological figure (…passive, in that she was blind, and kind to all). Our Lady Justice is the active embodiment that injustice must be struck down. Also, we incorporated bronze doors to the entry of the building reminiscent of the U.S Supreme Court entry door, with the addition of our state Supreme Court seal carved into it.
VLM: In recent years, focus has shifted largely to sustainability and energy efficiency in terms of design and construction. How do you adapt to changes in those areas as you work on new projects, and how did you achieve modernity with a 19th century style courthouse featuring traditional materials?
YL: It is amazing that even while adhering to traditional methods of construction, we were able to build a contemporary masonry super structure—with modern VRF HVAC systems, natural stone cladding, and solid wood finishing—and that we easily achieved LEED Silver classification. In fact, with this building, we aimed toward and achieved LEED Gold standard.
VLM: It’s a general impression of the public that many architects design a building and then leave it to the contractors to finish. As the CEO and principal architect of your firm, do you prefer to see your designs all the way through?
YL: My building philosophy is that once you set up the business parameters and the objective of a project, it’s time to focus on how to build the best building you know how to build. Every building that EHB Companies builds becomes better than the one it preceded. In “master building”—from choice of location, to architecture inception, to the last detail installed—one has to be involved in every aspect to achieve this goal.
VLM: What about this Supreme Court project makes you the most proud?
YL: The proudest achievement is in the human spirit that was displayed during the building process, by so many people. Our team worked so hard to achieve this dream. This project was delivered in fewer than 14 months, from the time we put our first shovel in the ground. In that time, we had to get so many departments, people and manufacturers around the world to work in sync to make the schedule. Our executive team of financing and relation managers; our manufacturing manager; our contractors, employees, stone quarries and material suppliers; stone machining and carving shops, bronze foundries, wood carving shops, fine furniture carpenters, staff architects, and so many talented artists—including stone installers, staff carpenters and painters and others who were so dedicated to this project as if it was their own—took part in history making that made this all possible.
It does not happen every day that ordinary people do such an extraordinary job. This is Paul’s, Vickie’s and my proudest moment, as well as for so many others in our company.
VLM: Do you have a quote or saying that you live by? Something that inspires you?
YL: To me, stone is alive. It’s not dead to me, like it is to most people. It’s not just an object. Stone talks to you: the veins, the heart, the shell…it tells a story. So for me, what I believe in is this: “Only the stones live forever.”
Elena Castriota is a Boston-based freelance writer and social media marketer whose work has appeared in The Fenway Times and The Putnam Examiner, and will appear in DLXVRSN Magazine this spring. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.