An In-Depth Look at the MGM National Harbor Design

By Eddie Abeyta

After several years of personal and professional investment, it’s no surprise that architects develop deep connections to their projects. In 2006, Eddie Abeyta moved into a condo of his own creation at the W Dallas Victory Hotel and Residences. During the two years of design and construction of the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor, Eddie developed an intimate bond with another one of his buildings. Here’s Eddie’s story.

During college, I discovered my love for travel and after receiving my master’s degree in architecture I took a trip to Washington D.C. I immediately fell in love with the city. The National Mall and The Washington Monument have held a special place in my heart ever since. Coincidentally, twenty years after that trip I had a conversation with MGM executives to discuss a new project just south of Washington D.C. Inspired by the client’s vision, the Washington Monument and the National Mall, I conceptualized a landmark tower rising from a plinth.

After a meeting in D.C., I stopped at an airport kiosk to pick up a post card for a woman I’d recently started dating. Instead, I found a black and white photo with a picture of the Lincoln Memorial; I’d just discovered it was her favorite building. After speaking with the kiosk’s operator, I found out that he had taken photos of many of DC’s landmarks. I encouraged him to visit the MGM when it was completed, although I figured that would be the last time I saw him. A year goes by, and construction is underway on the biggest project of my career. While visiting the site, I toured the town of National Harbor and stumbled across a local photographer’s studio.

Lo and behold, this shop, just down the hill from the project site, is owned by the same photographer who sold me the photo for my girlfriend a year earlier. He’d forgotten about me, but I remind him to visit when it’s done! As we approached the grand opening, I visited National Harbor to see if he’d want to visit sometime. Unfortunately, his storefront stood empty and I had no idea of how to contact him.

Dec. 7, 2016, MGM National Harbor is preparing for its ribbon cutting ceremony. I took a trip to the Washington Monument with the same woman I’d bought the photograph for two years earlier. Atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I dropped to one knee and pulled out a ring. Her eyes lit up and, at that moment, I was the world’s happiest man. A nearby tourist took several photos for us to immortalize the moment.

Until we were nearly at the car, we’d forgotten about a pair of water bottles that we dropped for the photos. We took a short walk back up the steps of the monument to grab them. When we got back to the monument, we saw a photographer setting up a tripod next to our bottles. My new fiancé asked to grab them, and as the man turned to her, it was the same photographer that I’d met several times over the years.

The coincidence of it all nearly took me off my feet. I then explained that this was the woman I’d bought the photo for years ago. It was a true, full circle moment. Within a matter of days, MGM National Harbor opened and, most importantly, I got the girl.

Eddie Abeyta

Eddie's strong commitment to quality connects HKS global offices through a common design voice. As director of some of the firm’s largest and most complex projects across the world, Eddie's work demonstrates the impact architecture can have in communities and the fabric of our cities.