A hypnotic brew of light, art, and decadently textured materials creates a dramatic and mysterious effect for Le Meridien Hotel.

» What guests visiting le meridien see is a euro-chic hotel with a sexy, theatrical atmosphere. What they do not see is the lighting equipment-or the value engineering that almost rendered the lighting plan by Cooley Monato Studio of New York City a flight of imagination.

This striking project in Minneapolis is in part the product of a well-choreographed team. Cooley Monato has had a six-year working relationship with Yabu Pushelberg (YP), the Toronto-based firm that has 'arrived' on the design scene like a hip guest at a dull party. Together, the duo has created striking interiors for the Four Seasons in Tokyo, Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, Amore Pacific skin care boutique, also in Manhattan, and of course Le Meridien; the latter two won 2004 Lumen Awards of Excellence.

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It is easy to see why: The interiors of Le Meridien are sensual and inviting. Says YP project manager Mary Mark, 'The design is strong, but simple. We wanted to create glamour, tastefully, with a little sparkle, so that guests are transformed but they can't quite tell why.' The modern art installed throughout is simultaneously organic and urbane. The earthy color palette calms, while the surfaces and materials-shiny copper, a dark metal filigree screen, an exotic bark-like veneer, mirrors-engage and titillate the viewer. The artwork and materials are highlighted and brought to the fore with a carefully planned but simple lighting approach.

From the beginning, the project was a canvas primed for creative expression. YP creates interiors that become pieces of art in their own right, but are actually a collection of artist-designed installations. 'If you did not know it was a hotel, you would have the impression that it was a modern art gallery,' says lighting designer and firm principal Emily Monato. 'YP is heavily invested in showcasing art pieces as architecture.'

Monato and Giselle Mercado, a senior designer with Cooley Monato, approached Le Meridien with a sense of this potential. However, it soon seemed that their lighting concepts would not survive the value-engineering process. 'The lighting approach was so light-handed and carefully balanced,' explains Monato, 'any change could have ruined it.' Monato and Mercado rallied to find a solution. Working with Andy Pott, principal of lighting agency TPL Marketing in Toronto, they were able to select substitutions that preserved most of the original lighting scheme. 'We credit Andy with saving the intent of the project,' says Monato. 'He has the kind of sensitivity that says 'OK, I know what you are trying to do here.''

The lighting throughout the public areas (the guest rooms had already been designed by the time YP and Cooley Monato came on the scene) is a variation on one detail, explains Monato. 'Everything is hidden away in some sort of pocket.' From the Minneapolis sidewalk, the hotel has an unassuming façade. Once through the front door, however, visitors are greeted by the first of a series of interesting surfaces. Copper-clad walls form the lobby and concierge area; these are grazed with light from incandescent channels that skirt the room's perimeter. Walking to the elevators that transport guests to the registration area on the fourth-floor, one passes through a second transition space characterized by filigreed screens. During the day, sunlight enhances the decorated surface; by night, a low-voltage uplight sandwiched between the wall and the panel brings the detail alive. On the fourth floor, a special wood veneer lines the walls, and like they did the copper facing, the lighting designers grazed this with a track fixture recessed in a deep pocket between the ceiling and perimeter wall.

A similar approach is taken to the restaurant/lounge on the fourth floor, and in the bar/lounge on the first floor; here, walls-painted a provocative red-are uplighted with an adjustable line-voltage fixture recessed in a 5-inch-wide space behind the banquette. In the bar, an art installation by Belgian ceramic artist Piet Stockmans is embedded in the wall, and the adjustable equipment enabled the designers to focus the lighting on the variable heights of the installation.

Custom fixtures are a legitimate part of the project's stable of artwork. A pendant fixture, designed by YP and fabricated by a local porcelain artist, hangs in the first-floor bar. A lantern-like custom fixture, also designed by YP with technical input from Cooley Monato, is a reoccurring theme throughout the hotel and is first introduced in the entry lobby, where its yellow-cast light complements the copper surfacing. Upstairs, the lanterns are the 'fire' against the 'ice' of the acrylic partitions. Forming the entryway to the hotel restaurant, the partitions-which are constructed with meticulously stacked and glued frosted and clear acrylic slats-are enhanced with blue-dichroic-filtered light. The artwork throughout-like the individually strung bits of paper that form a 'curtain' behind the reception desk (by artist Hirotoshi Sawada) and the wood-block relief (by artist Dennis Lin) near the elevators-is lighted with MR16s.

Light Lost

Despite the team's best efforts, a few concepts were ultimately omitted in the reengineering process. In the dining room, stacked disc-shaped mirrors line the far wall; Monato and Mercado had hoped to emphasize the installation with a color-wash luminaire mounted behind the discs, but ended up settling for a starkly painted back wall and a few adjustable accent lights fitted with the same glacial-blue filters that light the acrylic panels on the other side of the room. The banquettes were another area for compromise: instead of the low-voltage ALRs originally specified, the designers settled on line-voltage PAR20s; in addition to being less expensive equipment, they eliminated the need for a transformer. Also, to reduce the number of fixtures, the luminaires were spaced farther apart. The scallop on the wall is perhaps more pronounced than it would have been with the original specification, notes Monato, but otherwise the effect is very close to what was intended.

Le Meridien has the look of an opulent project that never suffered an ounce of value engineering; that it actually did makes the design team's accomplishments that much more outstanding. Emilie W. Sommerhoff

project Le Meridien Hotel, Minneapolis
interior designer Yabu Pushelberg, Toronto
lighting designer Cooley Monato, New York City
lighting agent TPL Marketing, Toronto City photographer David Joseph, New York City
manufacturers Altman, Bartco, Belfer, Lightolier, Lucebella/3G Lighting, Reggiani, Tokistar