—By: Craig DiLouie – Featured Project in ARCHITECTURAL SSL—
The Challenge: FireKeepers Casino, owned by the Nottaaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and managed by Gaming Entertainment opened in August 2009. This 256,000-sq.-ft. casino offers a complete gaming experience. Marty Peck, IALD, LC, principal
of Wisconsin-based Creative Lighting Design & Engineering, became interested in the project upon first hearing about it, as he had grown up near Battle Creek. The architect subsequently hired his firm as the project’s lighting designer in the spring of 2007, about a year before construction began. “We needed to use lighting to evoke the Native environmentals of fire, earth, air and water, but in a very abstract, contemporary style,” says Peck. “We really didn’t want to theme the casino in the typical sense. We interpreted these as color and movement in various representations to build a fun space that would create an exciting anticipation of winning.”
The Solution: The resulting lighting design is a dramatic, colorful and choreographed scheme that relies heavily on solid-state lighting technology. From an animated video entrance to hundreds of colorful, playful elements that permeate the casino’s atmosphere, LED lighting is a primary design element in the building’s public spaces. Guests are greeted by the animated theme of elementals at the 60-ft. long x 20-ft. wide front entry vestibule, enveloped by Traxon MESH material placed behind frosted glass on three sides.
The effect is of walking into fire or water or becoming immersed in dozens of other video effects that are sometimes environmental, sometimes abstract.
“From the very approach to the casino the lighting makes a statement of progressive excitement,” Peck points out.
The video vestibule sets the tone and pulls you in; once inside, the wild and varied effects continue to pull visitors through. Programmable custom sconces by Eclipse and Color Kinetics ColorBlast12 floods create companion colors on the exterior façade. Meanwhile, Color Kinetics SLX string “embers” are placed above the entry doors, which “shower” in white and blue or flicker in reds and oranges to accompany the video vestibule effect.
Trying It Together: The elemental features and the LED and automated lighting are controlled by a Pharos LPC X lighting playback controller expanded to 70 DMX universes. The controller also master-operates two e:cue controllers used to run some of the more video intensive LED installations.
This approach provided flexibility, as it enabled the option of using ETC Net2 to distribute DMX to fixtures in certain areas and Philips’ Kinetic protocol directly to other fixtures where this proved a simpler option.
“Having a unified system yielded many fantastic advantages,” Peck explains. “Slot machine-triggered celebrations take over parts or all of the casino floor with wild animation, and the entire lighting system is even methodically choreographed to several songs.”
The project includes more than 41,300 LED nodes with more than 142,000 channels of information. Programming all of these nodes to produce more than 90 minutes of unique lighting effects required a 10-page script. The program alternates between “fun” color palettes to the big elemental effects which include an “earthquake” which sends waves of motion, with the climax, a big thunderstorm.
Peck points out that the project’s vibrant colors, animation and choreography could not have been accomplished using any other technology than LEDs.
“LEDs are fantastic and versatile solutions,” he says. “However, be wary of the magnitude and complexity of large-scale lighting data distribution.”
To convey “air,” the designers came up with the concept of randomly placed linear “wisps” placed across a range of mounting heights across the slot machine area. The design includes 80 of these 16- and 32-ft. x 8-in. frost-diffused polycarbonate tubes fitted with an iColor Flex SLX string along the top of each 16-ft. length. These visual custom elements were built by EverBrite Lighting Technologies under an extreme deadline; the original manufacturer went out of business two weeks before delivery.
The designers, meanwhile, had to experiment to verify that the polycarbonate produced the desired diffusion characteristic, and figure out how to join the lengths. “The wisps can be all one color or colors can flow down their length,” says Peck.
The idea of water proved the perfect vehicle to treat the significant ceiling space with color and three-dimensional depth. The result is 550 “raindrops.” Each raindrop is a Color Kinetics 5W MR G2 lamp placed inside a custom 15-in. tall blown-glass pendant by Prima. The lamp requires both power and data through a two-wire feed, so both loading and lead length had to be tested. In the end, the designers decided on eight fixtures per power supply, a configuration carefully replicated by the contractor using GPS positioning.
“The raindrops give a strong perspective of depth as one moves through the casino,” Peck says. “Each raindrop provides a vivid splash of color, and in concert they dance and flow across the ceiling to give a huge impact of movement and color.”
The most difficult concept to convey, the design team, at first, considered suspended spheres to suggest planets, but this would not have been true to Native lore. Fortunately, someone came up with the idea of stalactites. The result is installation of nearly 20 11- x 15-ft. long inverted cones, custom manufactured by Eventscape with translucent fabric spandex covers, mounted over the 107,000-sq-ft. gaming floor. Each houses an iColor Flex SLX string of 50 individually programmable LED nodes by Color Kinetics, which produce random internal sparkle, while four Color Kinetics ColorCast14 fixtures provide a washing distribution down the inside from the top, producing a tapering glow. “The combination of wash and sparkle gave us lots of programming options and looks,” says Peck.
The Kabaret bar and club were designated as the fire element. Translucent red walls suggesting wire shapes are both uplighted (2- and 3-ft. linear Color Kinetics ColorGraze) and downlighted (ColorBlast 12) from within using intense LED floods in orange and red colors. Additionally, eight Robe REDWash 2.36 movinghead LED floods inside the Kabaret add color on the stage and movement along the walls. The walls are irregular and were undefined during part of the design, making fixture placement and color choices difficult. “The Kabaret is a major focal element from both entrances, and is key to the abstract stylization throughout the casino and also of the FireKeepers name,” Peck points out. “It typically flickers with a fire palette and occasionally explodes fire color across the entire casino.”