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“Create a oasis in the middle of desert so great that it will be confused with a mirage.”

That was the assignment given to Don Brinkerhoff, CEO of Lifescapes International, and his team for designing the landscape in the most expensive casino-hotel in history.

The client that gave the assignment was Steve Wynn, the job required to be unique, out of the ordinary and to deliver an experience beyond any customer’s expectations.

Built in 1989 at a whopping cost of $620 million (which was unheard of at the time), The Mirage introduced the concept of a destination resort to the Las Vegas Strip, and maintains its status as an icon of the Strip to this day.

Recognized as trendsetters designing resorts and hotels, casinos, we would say that Don Brinkerhoff and his team succeeded in achieving the project brief.

Don Brinkerhoff: The Man Behind Las Vegas’ Iconic Resort Landscapes

The First Casino Resort in Las Vegas

The Mirage Las vegas

Brinkerhoff’s solution to creating ‘an oasis in the middle of the desert’ was to design a tropical, South Seas oasis in the middle of a harsh, barren desert, and use a fire and water volcano at the front of the resort to become the real billboard for the hotel.

At that time, the largest market for gambling was in in Las Vegas, and people coming from Southern California would discover a unique attraction, with waterfalls , a jungle with majestic palms, a rainforest with animals, swimming pools and dolphin habitat.

The result was a destination like nothing else in Clark County; the first casino resort built on the Las Vegas Strip, paving the way for billions of dollars in development of the same.

While Vegas today is a highly competitive market, The Mirage didn’t had competitors for three years. Though other gaming operators saw the success of the Mirage, and started to build their own resort destinations, hiring Lifescapes again as the landscape architect.

Image: Ronnie Macdonald (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Lifescapes Influence on Las Vegas

The Mirage Volcano

Lifescapes focus was on creating a successful landscape destination for people visiting Las Vegas. The team worked with developers, operators, architects and consultants to create memorable, iconic landscapes in more than 15 casinos resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

In addition, 40 more casino resorts were built across the US and the world, and if there’s one very specific influence Lifescapes has had on Las Vegas, it would be the firm’s portfolio of creating spectacular gardens.

Don and his Lifescapes team proved that landscape architecture can be an attraction. And The American Gaming Associations recognized Brinkerhoff’s innovations in the gaming industry by inducting him into AGA Hall of Fame; the first landscape designer to be honored in this way.

The Hall of Fame honors achievements of leadership and entertainment in the gaming industry. Brinkerhoff, at his induction, said that without his senior executive team, he wouldn’t made it this far and because of working side by side had lead the company to success.

Photo credit: Nan Palmero (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Designing Vegas and the World

Fountains of Bellagio.

Lifescapes changed the realm of landscapes architecture.

World-class architectural and interior designer Leonard Bergman said that Lifescapes priority is to gain a emotional response from the human being and he considers one of the most creative design firm ever.

Bhavna M. Mistry, who was formerly affiliated with Caesars Entertainment Corp., remembers when she worked with Brinkerhoff and Lifescapes in building a 27-story tower at the edge of New Orleans. She wanted that street to be a destination street, where people would feel like they were visiting Europe.

For over three decades, Lifescapes worked with major casino industry property owners and operators, like Golden Nugget Resorts, the Genting Group, Mirage Resorts, Bally’s Pinnacle Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp., Las Vegas Sands Corp., and others.

They designed the iconic 4.5-mile of Las Vegas Boulevard Byway for Clark Country as well.

Other Designers Who Have Influenced Las Vegas

Las vegas RF

Besides enormous buildings, beautiful gardens, luxury accommodations, and enhancing interior design, designing Las Vegas city didn’t stop there. The city has also been shaped by game design of the slot machines.

Their design is a process of integration, which includes script writers, graphic artists, marketers, mathematicians, software, mechanical and video engineers. The slot machine is a symphony of different technologies that come together into a single piece.

Slot machines are driving the industry, and over the past few decades have shaped the concept of a casino as we know it today. In recent decades society has seen a shift away from the social forms of gambling by playing roulette, poker and blackjack and slot machines have grown in popularity.

In an ever evolving market, these slot machines have seen an infusion of digital and video technology into the Casino space. The locals call Las Vegas “The city of machines’’.

The Tourism Impact of the Online Casino

From 1989 when Brinkerhoff gave life to the first resort casino, to 2018 where the online casino is now having an effect on Vegas tourism, the gambling culture in Las Vegas has evolved rapidly.

The number of tourists visiting casino resorts continues to rise, as travelers often view gambling as a leisure activity, especially in a niche destination like Vegas. Though with the sudden availability of online casinos like Gametwist online, it will be interesting to see if this trend will impact casino tourism.

We think not, as Brinkerhoff and his team at Lifescapes didn’t simply create casinos. By incorporating pools, waterfalls, and stunning over the top gardens, in each resort they created along the Vegas Strip, they created destinations in their own right.


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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



  1. Interesting article, you don’t often think about the people like this who play a role behind the scenes.

    • Glad you enjoyed the feature Kevin … Thanks for stopping by :)

  2. Oh wow, I’ll definitely appreciate the gardens more when I go back knowing now about the guy who did it all!

    • Right!! It does give you a whole new appreciation for the interior / landscape design knowing the story behind it :)

  3. A very talented man and team indeed.

    • Absolutely :)

  4. Had no idea that the Mirage was the first resort on the strip. I’m actually in the middle of writing up a list of questions for 5 rounds of trivia night, so going to slot that one in :D

    • Fun fact for the day then! Glad we could help out with some of your trivia Q’s … will be interesting to see if anyone gets it right :)

  5. What a mighty mighty man!

    • Absolutely, he’s done such a massive job!

  6. I’m not a Vegas fan, but I do give the resorts credit where credit is due in that they’re beautifully designed and yes, the interiors, including the gardens and the landscaping is all stunningly beautiful. I agree that they act well as destinations in their own right, and allow travelers like me who don’t gamble an oasis away from the slow machines.

    • Absolutely Smith. We’re personally not interested in the gambling side of Vegas, but we did really enjoy walking through the hotels on the strip and checking out their interiors and gardens. It’s like walking into a different world :)

  7. I’ve stood in front of the Mirage volcano, and Bellagio fountains more times than I could think to count, but never wondered who came up with the creation. Mr Brinkerhoff has a fascinating story :)

    • Glad we could give you some info about the man behind the creations!

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