MORONGO CASINO RESORT & SPA, submitted by Visual Terrain

» Driving toward the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa near Palm Springs, California, is an experience-one that begins five miles away. A skyline in itself, the 27-story hotel tower beckons passersby to come in and try their luck. The project, a 44-acre gaming and resort development for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, took inspiration from the natural terrain to create a dazzling icon that blends harmoniously with the surroundings, and at nightfall, becomes a desert oasis.

Drawn in by the tower, visitors encounter an adaptation of the arid landscape. Project designer and senior associate, Trevor Pollard, then with architecture and urban planning firm Jerde Partnership, says, 'Architecture alone would not create the experience of an 'entertainment resort oasis.'' The application of light, however, transforms the surroundings with a splash of natural color into just that.

Taking care to balance light levels and comply with self-imposed dark-sky regulations (the sovereign nation of Morongo does not have a dark-sky ordinance), lighting design firm Visual Terrain limited the tower's color palette to the spectrum of natural light from sunrise to sunset. Fixtures, mounted on top of the low-rise casino building, uplight the entire tower façade with overlapping fixture focus to emulate the sky's natural color variation and gradations of light. An evolution from the initial idea of projecting images onto the tower's top, a 4,000-linear-foot DMX-controlled LED curtain wall was custom-fit onto the window mullions to enable a continuous light show throughout the night.

The porte cochère at the main entrance to the casino offered another opportunity for color. Lit indirectly and with downlights hidden within its form, the floral concept of the steel structure mimics the tones of a desert flower. But, as Matt Levesque, senior project designer with Visual Terrain explains, 'these moments wouldn't be special without the other moments balancing them out.' For this reason, the integration of a static white wall-grazing technique on the low-rise casino was used to distinguish the architectural elements.

The lighting experience travels inside to a casino teeming with color from floor to ceiling. Backlighting techniques are used throughout, providing continuity while helping to define the casino's many zones. The reception desk, also illuminated by a row of LED uplights, gives way to the pit bar, the focal point of the casino, where highlighted glass bead curtains with water trickling down them make up a subtle water feature. Slot machines and game tables sit below an expanse of intricate ceilings with colored fluorescent fixtures and a field of dramatic fabric panels. The trick to all this color? Finding the right balance.

Jury Comments
The otherwise nondescript tower façade has become a canvas for color. Warm and cool colored coves reflective of the landscape define space throughout the casino floor, as well as add dimension and layers of interest.

project Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, Cabazon, CA
executive architect Thalden Boyd Architects, Las Vegas
design architect/interior design The Jerde Partnership, Los Angeles
interior design Hirsch Bedner Associates, Los Angeles
lighting designer Visual Terrain, Van Nuys, CA
photographerTom Paiva
total square footage 659,800
watts per square foot 2.3

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