Helping Nature Sing

The custom lighting choices for the Ilani Casino Resort in Washington State reflect the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest as well as the Cowlitz Tribe’s heritage.  By Linda Longo

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#45b7e0″]T[/dropcap]he opening of the new Ilani Casino — developed by Salishan-Mohegan LLC in collaboration with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe — has been a long time coming. First, the tribe had to overcome several years’ worth of legal wrangling over the tribe’s status as well as a major land dispute.

Ater hard-won victories in court, the opening of the Ilani (the name means “sing” in the Cowlitz language) casino finally happened three months ago. The property does not yet include a hotel, although there are plans to build one in the future.

The design of the 368,000-sq.-ft. casino resort features a 100,000-sq.-ft. gaming floor with 2,500 slot machines and 75 table games, including favorites like blackjack, roulette, midi baccarat, craps, and pai gow poker.

On the architectural side, the award-winning Friedmutter Group in Las Vegas envisioned a design incorporating glass, wood, and stone to underscore the natural environment and took care to offer spectacular landscape views from the facility. Portland, Ore.-based Fanto Group provided the decorative, architectural, interior/exterior electric and gas commercial lighting and collaborated with Royal Contract Lighting, headquartered in Taunton, Mass., for the project.

The design teams worked in tandem to create an ambiance using nature and the surrounding landscape as their inspiration. They expressed these themes through the use of certain shapes — waves for water, fish for animals, authentic-looking simulated tree trunks — and made use of color to elicit mood.

The Royal Contract Lighting team sourced materials that helped convey this natural look by selecting amber and smoke-gray glass, baskets with cherry-wood ribs, and other natural wood expressions. According to Paul Spacek, President of Royal Contract Lighting, “The overall goal was to express the richness of an entire culture through the light fixtures; for instance, the basket lighting and hanging hat fixtures were modeled on items actually used by the Cowlitz tribe. We did our best to make the designers’ vision come to life in functional, visually appealing fixtures.”

Royal Contract Lighting created hundreds of pieces for the facility’s lighting, including 12 enormous fixtures for the resort’s outdoor ceilings. Designed in the form of waves, the three largest measure 49 feet long and weigh approximately 1,800 pounds each.

For the entry portal, the lighting manufacturer made 10 chandeliers with curved art glass that was overlapped and layered to achieve a woven effect to simulate baskets. The sizes vary, with the largest being 76 inches high and weighing 1,000 pounds. Glass is also featured prominently in a trio of hand-blown Venetian art glass pendant fixtures created for the VIP lounge.

“We view our role as a facilitator that makes the client’s dream become a reality within the available budget,” says Jim Fanto, President of Fanto Group. “Royal Contract Lighting’s in-house engineering and manufacturing, along with the company’s ability to source high-quality materials at a reasonable price, made it the logical choice to work with us on Ilani.”

Both Fanto and Royal Contract Lighting have worked together on projects in the past. “Working together as a team, we’ve learned that we can resolve any unexpected issues that might — and undoubtedly will — arise during a project,” Spacek notes. “Our specialty is bringing art to life through the medium of lighting. In this project, the challenge was to take a concept — an idea — and bring it to life in such a way that it would be functional and mechanically sound while also being, artistic, and expressive,” he adds.

Although Royal Contract Lighting works with large custom fixtures all the time, some of the fixtures for this casino were exceptionally big — up to 49 feet long. “For the enormous outdoor ‘wave’ lighting, we drew upon the top engineers from our U.S. and China offices to advise on the high-quality materials would help us achieve the overall look and feel of the wave concept, while also enabling the fixtures to be built in pieces, then assembled on site, so they could be shipped in the most economical manner,” Spacek explains.

Another unique application was outfitting the entertainment lounge with 15 pendant lighting fixtures designed to resemble slices of tree trunks. These fixtures — distinguished by frosted opal white acrylic panel covers and bronze details — vary in size, with the largest being 66 inches and adjustable up to a height of 114 inches.

Visitors have already commented on the aesthetic beauty of the “glass fish” that glide through casino. These 36 aquatic-themed chandeliers, which were also custom-built for the casino, are each made up of 50 hand-blown, amber color glass fish measuring 11” x 5” themselves; in their entirety, the chandeliers are 106” long x 92” high.

Above the slot machines are nearly three dozen vertical basket cluster lighting fixtures with tapered cherry wood ribs. Nearby, the casino bar is outfitted with eight 24” x 128” cluster pendants, each consisting of 5 concave and convex hand-blown glass pieces hand-paddled to create an organic appearance.

For the casino’s high-limit section — always an exclusive and luxurious environment to attract a special clientele — Royal Contract Lighting fabricated a 720” long x 84” wide x 60” high chandelier comprised of dangling multi-tone and textured glass “kebabs.” The overall effect is a subtle shimmering curved edge with a multilevel bottom surface that makes the 12,000-pound chandelier  look almost ethereal.

The Ilani Casino Resort may be one of the few gaming properties that — thanks to its aesthetics and lighting design — will have visitors looking up to admire the ceiling as much as they spend time focused on the gaming tables.

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