—By: Contract Lighting – An article for Contract Lighting—
Representing the landscape along the South Canadian River and the northern border of the Chickasaw Nation, the architectural intention behind Riverwind’s structure is different from other betting operations.
“Unlike [many] casinos, which are more thematic and focus on a major city or era in history, Riverwind is more abstract,” says Nathan Peak, AIA, lead designer for Memphis-based Hnedak Bobo Group, the architectural design firm that designed the 219,000-sq.-ft. facility. Established in 1979, Hnedak Bobo Group has a history of working closely with Native American tribes across the country to deliver specialized hotel, casino, and resort destinations.
The building was sited on reservation land to provide the best “billboard” views from an interstate highway. Tailored to appeal to a mass audience of gaming, entertainment, and concert enthusiasts, the setting needed to offer ease of access and ample parking.
“We gave a nod to the location of the structure and came up with an ethereal ‘prairie wind’ concept which encompasses Oklahoma’s native landscape,” Peak comments. The swoops at the entry evoke the bend of prairie grasses while the contemporary sapphire blue façade lays low to the earth, capturing the beauty of the environment without overpowering the indigenous fields.
Unleashing High Energy
The interior, designed by Peak and Valli Wiggins of Valli Interior Design, based in Memphis, emulates the 46th state’s natural surroundings. Covering one story, the casino floor fans out from the central Energy Bar and the expanse is visually divided into smaller gaming areas by two primary patterns of light: the depiction of wind and references to the river.
The design team hired lighting designer Marty Peck of Creative Lighting & Engineering in Germantown, Wisc., to bring their vision to fruition. It was Peck’s responsibility to convey movement while delineating space with river and wind iconography through the use of lighting technology.
For example, the Energy Bar is a visual vortex amid the wind and water imagery, and as such it required a lighting treatment that would express vibrancy and excitement.
The goal was to have the bar “radiate colorful energy and intensity that blends with the wind and river color palettes,” Peck explains. Programmable LEDs create a timed sequence of cool (water) and warm (wind) hues that flow around the area.
“Lighting doesn’t have to be a static look; it can be very dynamic,” Peck notes. To further connote the notion of high energy, he placed 18 robotic HID spotlights from High End Systems, a strobe light near the dome ceiling of the Energy Bar, and installed a mirror ball.
Six hidden 275-watt robotic projectors animate the space when they are aimed at the mirror ball, into the curtain, or out onto the dome. These fixtures can rotate, tilt, and project colors, patterns, images, and video.
The interior dome ceiling is uplit with PAR38 spotlights located in the center back-bar with a blend of three primary colors achievable through dimmers. The knee-wall surrounding the bar is uplit from in-floor fixtures with a color filter that is appropriate to the surrounding river and wind palettes.
To create an atmosphere of fun and sporadic visual stimulation, Peck programmed the lighting to have 20-minute cycles of soft lighting – perfect for quiet conversations – and periods of subtle, sweeping color changes (the river hues flowing into the wind palette). Several times an hour, the robotic spotlights and strobe light are activated. “The idea was to have a celebration of lights flashing that would raise the tempo of the casino floor,” Peck comments.
Fixture access is gained through ladder rungs on the center column. The robotics, bar, and perimeter downlights are DMX-controlled via LPC, interfaced with an LED controller to provide six different hourly routines in addition to the more random light “celebrations” (which include sound).
While the Energy Bar is the visual centerpiece of the casino, a glass sculpture with a swirl pattern is the focal point of the bar. It is illuminated by six 50-watt programmable LED fixtures from above and below in pairings such as magenta-yellow and greenblue. When the lighting changes color, or the HID fixtures and strobe light are in full swing, the glass swirls on the bar’s center column are more pronounced and magnify the impression of movement.
Images can also be projected onto the outer wall surface of the Energy Bar – such as wisps or bubbles – by employing dimmable 575-watt theatrical projectors. The walls may be highlighted with color-changing LED spotlights that can be individually programmed to a specific hue, allowing the entire cone to change color or for the colors to rotate.
Rimming the perimeter of the Energy Bar is a curtain of metal beads that is downlit by a ring of track-mounted MR16 spotlights. These fixtures are in three separate hues that can be blended by dimmers so the color of the entire ring can be selected. Other spotlights uplight the beaded curtain to create an additional layer of colored light.
A Beacon in the Great Outdoors
One of the considerations when illuminating the façade was to take advantage of Riverwind’s close proximity to I-35. Peak reports that his group did extensive site studies to determine at which point the structure would come into view for travelers driving along the north and southbound lanes of the highway. These findings served as a guide for the lighting design outside.
The design team wanted the exterior to complement the water-and-wind theme established inside. The challenge was determining how to portray the abstract themes of a flowing river and prairie wind. Dramatic flowing “currents” that weave across the 500-ft. façade was the decorative solution. Each 30′-high “current” is washed from a continuous row of 13′-long, 30-watt, programmable Color Kinetics LED fixtures that follow the serpentine curves with simple, end-to-end 120-volt connections aimed up for an even, vertical wash. A color changing program choreographs the light to suggest a river (through a palette of blue, white, turquoise, lavender, and cyan that flow leftward along the swoops to create a sense of motion) and a color shift to amber, green, orange, blue, and yellow to convey a blowing prairie wind.
“We didn’t just want to do riverwind, river-wind sequencing,” Peck notes. “We wanted people to see something different.” This lighting designer didn’t want the flow of light to be so predictable that it would go unnoticed by those who routinely drive by the casino. He finished off the color sequencing with an unexpected flurry of bold colors like a fireworks finale before it fades away and the program starts anew.
Peck also installed six Color Kinetics floodlights and a high-end Systems strobe light on top of a 85′-high pylon with a video screen. This tower serves as a beacon that can be seen from one mile away or more.
“Our lighting firm pays attention to tempo with lighting. The random flashes that occur from the strobe are our little gotcha. What makes it fun is that it’s random,” Peck says. “If you see a little light celebration once in a while, it gets your attention.”
“The kinetic lighting gives the building a different look day and night while emulating the energy inside the casino,” Peak says. “The lights also mimic the motion of cars traveling along the interstate.”
Approaching the entrance, continuity is maintained by color-changing HID drive-over uplights from Martin Architectural. These bathe the porte-cochere with flowing colors, while the façades are washed by blue-discharge HID floodlights.
“We were excited to work on a project that allowed us to incorporate the latest design elements in casino architecture and be creative with [them],” says Danny Valle, AIA, a project manager with Hnedak Bobo. “The result is a facility that’s not only unique within the casino industry, but that is distinctive and characteristic of Oklahoma.
“Whether you go to Riverwind for the games or concerts – or perhaps you are driving by on your way to and from work – you will appreciate the aesthetics because it pays tribute to the local landscape and hints at the adventure going on inside. Certainly, the architectural details separate this facility from others in the state and throughout the region,” he adds.