Las Vegas Food Hub: First impressions from community leaders

Under a sunny morning sky on March 4, the students of Iowa State’s College of Design Las Vegas Food Hub studio were fortunate to have met with community leaders who are directly involved with or have affiliations to healthy food initiatives in Las Vegas. This informal session occurred at the Downtown and 3rd Farmers’ Market and was intended to get us acquainted with each other as well as have the five student teams present some of our initial research and ideas for feedback, critiques, and overall impressions.

Aurora Buffington was the first person to speak with us at the farmers’ market.  She discussed that as a Registered Dietitian/Health Educator at Southern Nevada Health district, her primary interests in implementing a food hub in Las Vegas are related to health and wellness. She touched on how she was involved in the formation of the Southern Nevada Food Council in 2011 whose primary objective is to provide equal access to healthy food for all Southern Nevadans through education and policy. She also discussed the correlations between healthy food and healthcare as well as some of the initiatives currently happening in the local school system (i.e. individual school gardens). My particular group, who’s focus is on wellness found her to be a particularly insightful person to speak with but, due to time constraints, we made plans to speak with her at a later date.

Kerry Clasby was the next leader to whom we were introduced too. As the manager of the Downtown and 3rd Farmers’Market we were attending, she opened the discussion by giving her perspective on food accessibility and the importance of eating a variety of healthy and organic foods. When we briefly sat down to speak with her as an individual group, we introduced the information we found in regards to the current food shed that Las Vegas has access too, our initial ideas about wellness, and our potential site location. Her feedback was primarily centered around the feasibility of our business plan and who we could get as potential investors. These were both areas we had given some pertinence too, however; had not fully fleshed out. She warned of the pitfalls of how the wrong business plan could lead to debt and or foreclosure but, still encouraged us to push forward.

Rick Passo was the next individual we spoke with that morning. He is the Co-Founder of Food Hub Las Vegas, a separate initiative which uses grassroots initiatives to gain momentum and address issues related to food security, access, and health. Since he is also trying to initiate a food hub, he was able to speak at length about the movements and potential contacts we could speak with as we go continue our designs. He was inspiring because he was very invested and passionate about the cause despite who was responsible for implementing it. In addition to being involved with the startup of a food hub, he has also been involved with helping to plan Nevada statewide Green School Summit as well as urban agriculture.

Walt Michaels was the last individual that we spoke to at length. As an engineer, educator, and Managing Director at Charge-N-Go, LLC he was primarily interested in the mechanics of how our growing systems would work. He analyzed our current system and pointed out lighting issues we may encounter. He also stressed the importance of gaining business contacts to invest in our idea as well as shared some ideas how to do so from his own personal experiences.

All four had both big personalities and the brains to boot. In retrospect, I am glad we took the time to meet with these folks as they really gave us a lot to think about for changes to our design and plan.

Here are some of our presentation boards and the notes that went along with them:

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Las Vegas Food Hub: Striving Beyond Food

In  envisioning a food hub worthwhile of Las Vegas my team has entertained the notion that ideally the food hub is representational of much more than a source of food. It should be a communal space that aspires to inspire wellness in the entire community.

In this respect, we would like to reflect this concept at every level or our program (yoga meditation, indoor agriculture, aromatherapy spaces, cooking studio, informational workshops, classes, and our retail spaces). But the question arises, what does wellness encompass? How does it manifest spatially ?

Here is how we have defined it thus far:

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Las Vegas Food Hub: Envisioning Sensory Spaces

These are few narrative drawing that I’ve created which have emerged out of my team’s discussions of what we are envisioning for the space. While I pride myself as a inspiring architect, much of my personal design senses and interests are and have been rooted in the human experience with interior spaces. This includes, both tactical and sensory interactions.

Often in the beginning stages of design I partake in these type of  narrative drawings, be them abstract or fleshed out, to serve a few different avenues. For one, much like sketching as they serve as a springboard for generating ideas. I often prefer collages,as its a fast way to add texture and color. On that note, when working with others these can easily aid guide our material choices, act as a visual cue to get feedback from respected resources, and record thought processes in which can be referenced if the project strays from any initial deign guidelines.

In regards to the Las Vegas Food hub initiative, I  fully intend to update this post as we produce a few more of these. Any feedback is welcomed!

narrative 1.png
Abstraction of production and performing spaces
One of two main entries
narrative 3
Yoga Studio

Las Vegas Food Hub Series: Setting the Standard with the Living Building Challenge

In our initiative to create a viable Food Hub in Las Vegas we are subscribing to the design, social, and environmental parameters set by the Living Building Challenge.  The Living Building Challenge asserts itself as providing the  most rigorous performance standard for the built environment. With 5 petals and 20 imperative, they differentiate themselves from other sustainable standards in that they require a year long assessment of the the building’s actual performance to reach certification in addition to energy modeled estimates.

Some of the petals provide detailed guidelines for how you achieve them while others require a bit more research and consultation with the organization. In order to see how to apply this to our food hub project, we divided the research by imperative.

Embodied Carbon Footprint

My primary focus was number 11: embodied carbon footprint.  It requires that:

“The project must account for the total embodied carbon (tCO2e) impact from its construction through a one-time carbon offset in the Institute’s new Living Future Carbon Exchange or an approved carbon offset provider.

As you will notice it is bit vague on  how this is achieved so I performed some additional research exploring the definition of carbon foot print and its difference from embodied carbon.  Surprisingly, I found that they have evolved ubiquitously since the induction of the term ” carbon foot print” in Williams E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel’s Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.  With various definitions that slightly regarded the same thing, we accepted that:

“The Carbon footprint is a exclusive measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that is directly and indirectly  caused by an activity or is accumulated over the life stages of a product.”

How does this effect the food hub design?

I realized the relevance to our project could form in two ways: our physical building materials and also our actual aggregation, production, and distribution of our products (food).


In our preliminary designs, my team has  been considering which materials will serve best in the Las Vegas climate. Initially, we selected concrete and steel as our primary structure for their thermal and resiliency properties. But, through research have I concluded that both have high amounts of embodied energy and may not be suitable. Consequently, we are considering integrating other options like rammed earth in addition to seeing if we are able to simply source these initial material selections locally and with recycled components.



After a discussion with, Living Building Challenge’s Principal, Daniel Huard, it was made clear that its possibly  we could score some points toward certification by considering the embodied energy of the food. This  consideration could manifests itself in a a few ways: where we source our suppliers, how we choose to produce onsite, and how we choose to distribute (delivery vs in-house). We are in the process of creating a strategy. Much of the conversation surrounding this topic revolves around how much carbon is released in the delivery process, as well as the correlation of how much nutrients is lost along the process. In order to address this, we have chosen to only source locally and within the regional food shed.


  1. This is a process we can map out through estimates and modeling
  2. This is a process we will have to continually revise potential impacts as we make adjust to our design
  3. Tracking the embodied energy of food is not a required step to achieving certification but depending on our mission we may want to include



Las Vegas Food Hub: Thoughts on engaging the streetscape

After our discussion with RDG, I have been contemplating the importance of exterior facades. Considering people often walk down the street at 3-5 mph, the challenge in both architecture and urban planning for years has been designing an interesting streetscape that engages our senses at that speed. I  began by collecting images of spaces from my experience that I believed are successful at doing this very thing.

Commonalities between all these streets are that they are attractions within themselves and have some sort of historical significance, have clear indicators for their functions and entrances, are walkable due to pedestrian coverage (trees and boarders), and lastly allow for some seating.  Along those lines, corridors like Broadway, Bourbon Street, Michigan Ave, and Hollywood Boulevard could be added to the list.

Still, the question arises, how do you extract the successful qualities from these spaces into your own without making a cliche. How do these applications further apply within a place like Las Vegas which is known for imitating famous spaces?

In regards to our own project, to make the street more inviting, we’ve added comfortable benches with backs on curb extensions, facing toward the buildings (as opposed to the street) and anchored them with planters to provide a sense of place and community. On a nice day, people rest, converse or read a book. People of all ages are engaged. We’ve also both minimized the column grid  and raised the shading structure up to 12 feet to open the building up more visually to the street. Lastly, we have positioned our most active programs toward the perimeter of the building (with glass walls) so to encourage movement into the space. Collectively, we hope that efforts like these will create an active and engaging neighborhood that will attract more people and enhance economic and social sustainability.




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