Royal Rejuvenation

The newly renovated Hyatt Regency Chicago is the jewel in the crown of the Hyatt Hotels Corporation chain, offering dining areas and public spaces that communicate a world-class urban design image.     By Vilma Barr     Photography by James Steinkamp

In a city that likes to think big, the renovation of the 2,019-room Hyatt Regency Chicago ranks at the top of the hospitality mega-facelift list. Spanning the guest room floors and all public spaces – including the lobby, multiple restaurants, retail stores, the largest hotel convention space in the region, a fitness center, and back-of-the-house areas –the design team succeeded in achieving overall distinction and human scale throughout.

Hyatt Regency Chicago
The mezzanine-level Big Bar lounge offers views of downtown from floor-to-ceiling windows. A 6-level tower of bottles evokes the shape of skyscrapers.

The Hyatt Regency Chicago is considered to be the jewel in the crown of the Hyatt Hotels chain, which is headquartered in the Windy City. Its 680 properties, which operate under 13 brand names in 54 countries, are responsible for $4.4 billion in annual revenue. Collaborating on the renovation of the 40-year-old Hyatt Regency Chicago on East Wacker Drive, were: Oppenheim Architecture + Design; Bauer Latoza Studio, Bentel & Bentel Architects; and Kaplan Gehring McCarroll (KGM) Architectural Lighting. Tom Feilen, senior director of engineering at Hyatt Regency Chicago, represented the owner.

The Livable Lobby

A major element in the $168-million, three-year-long project was the 45,000-sq.-ft. main lobby. The challenge for the lighting program, according to Dan Weinreber of KGM, was to support the theme of an urban living room with guest amenities positioned around the perimeter.

“It’s a grand urban space that Hyatt management wanted to position into smaller-scaled spaces that would generate more traffic for the existing food services and reduce operating costs,” Weinreber says. Outside, the entrance plaza was treated with new landscaping, paving, site lighting, furniture, and artwork.

A major part of the renovation was an upgrade and redesign of the dining services and lounges. The largest is The American Craft Kitchen & Bar, marked by a slat wood ceiling, accented by rows of single LED pendants that lower the scale above the dining room and bar.

The new double-level atrium lobby serves to connect the hotel’s two towers located on opposite sides of the street while providing aesthetic unity. The new layout defines the Registration Center, American Craft restaurant, Market Café, Big Bar, and Stetson’s Steakhouse. “Each dining area has its own visual and menu identity,” Feilen explains, adding, “We recognize the worldwide trend among hotel restaurants in recent years that offers guests creative, quality cuisine rather than just typical options of fast-food, on-the-go service.”

KGM brought to the project its experience in designing lighting for upscale restaurants and dining destinations in major hotels, including Le Bernardin and the Grand Hyatt in New York City; W Hotel Midtown in Atlanta, and The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado. One of the solutions employed was to install LED lighting arrays along with an energy-efficient HVAC system. Under the existing skylight, a brise soleil unifies the space, and softens the effect of direct sunlight while reducing solar heat gain.

“A significant re-design of the lobby had not been attempted since the hotel’s opening in the mid-1970s,” remarks KGM partner Weinreber. “We were challenged by the owner to develop a dynamic, color-changing lighting system across a big, exposed 150-ft.-long space from a very small light source to produce an appealing, attention-generating effect,” he explains.

Culinary Ambiance

For the American Craft Kitchen & Bar, the facility’s premier eating attraction, KGM and the architects decided that an overhead vertical and horizontal ceiling-hung element would introduce a dramatic visual layer to illuminate tabletops and the chefs’ creations, while also being flattering to diners.

Faux wooden beams were customized to implement the overhead frame of louvres. The reflection of light off the louvres would augment daylighting for maximum distribution while the structure was fitted with unseen spotlights for nighttime illumination.

A bank of new stone-front counters in the Registration Center are situated beneath a black-accented drop ceiling. In the double-height atrium that connects the two towers, a dark painted wood trellis defines the American Craft Kitchen & Bar.

Weinreber and his associates at KGM’s El Segundo, Calif. offices studied the proposed installation from a mock-up perspective. “With limited dimensions in which to mount the lights in the actual space we had to work with at the hotel, luminaire size was critical,” he says. “We compared the resulting outputs from samples provided from manufacturers and found that even a couple degrees difference in the beam spread made a huge impact,” he remarks. The narrow, 6° version provided by Lumenpulse of the Lumenbeam Medium luminaire was rated as the most qualified performance for the installation.

Weinreber made use of openings between the slats at the top of the louver system to light them horizontally. When recessed into the metal base at the bottom of the structure, the same fixtures illuminate the vertical elements. A program of presets was established to represent combinations of various hues to celebrate assorted holidays, the colors of local Chicago-area sports teams, and special events staged over the course of the year.

During the day, a low-level RGB progression is in operation. Weinreber and his team then turned to another task as part of their lighting design services: to bring a nighttime identity to the façade of the East Tower facing Lake Michigan. Here, the structure’s set-back and determination of positions for mounting required precise plotting for each fixture to ensure accuracy by the installers. A crisp white light beamed from Lumembear XLaarge, 3000K, 6° with snoot, conveys a modern corporate Hyatt image to the highly visible site to support the facility’s multi-media marketing efforts.

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