The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), has grown, like its city, at a tremendous rate. Opened in 1951 as an extension program of the University of Nevada, Reno, it soon became a junior college. In 1969 the school became a full-fledged member of the state's university system; today it is the largest.
The campus was established in 1956 with the groundbreaking for its first building, Maude Frazier Hall. Now covering 335 acres in southeastern Las Vegas, not far from the Strip and McCarran International Airport, the university has over 20,000 students. Though some residential neighborhoods are located nearby, most of the faculty and staff live all over the Las Vegas Valley. The same is true of students; only a little over 1,000 live on campus. The buildings, many designed by local architects, date from the 1950s to the present and represent a variety of styles from modern to postmodern. The main entrance to the campus faces Maryland Parkway. In the local manner of siting, parking lots front the road, and buildings are set far back from the street.
The landscape design is perhaps the most impressive part of the complex, incorporating native desert plants and a drought-tolerant demonstration garden. Two quadrangles form a right angle at the northeast corner of the campus, creating large public spaces lined by buildings. One of Nevada's earliest examples of public art, Flashlight (1981), a 38-foot-tall sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, stands in the plaza between the fine arts and performing arts buildings.
Despite the cohesiveness of the quads, UNLV's rapid growth has made overall planning difficult. The school has had three master plans over the years, none of which has been followed for long. In addition, UNLV has made some puzzling planning decisions, perhaps motivated by the need for money. Though the university had an opportunity to establish its presence at the busy intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Maryland Parkway, it sold the land; now a gas station, bank, and fast-food restaurants mirror the strip development of the other corners. Given its location in the middle of Las Vegas, UNLV can be considered an urban campus, yet it still looks inward, reflecting a more suburban approach to development. On campus, the only reminder that the university is near one of the world's greatest