Traditions of the Mohegan Tribe set the tone for the Mohegan Sun casino, which opened last October on a 240-acre (97-hectare) site along the banks of the Thames River in rural southeastern Connecticut. Architect David Rockwell and lighting designer Paul Gregory collaborated on the interiors of the casino, building upon seasonal themes to celebrate the history of the tribe and redefine the paradigms of casino design.
"I wanted to do a casino for a long time and felt there was a big design opportunity there," notes Rockwell of Rockwell Architecture, who served as concept and interior architect for the casino (with Brennan Beer Gorman the architect-of-record). With projects ranging from trendy New York restaurants to mixed-use entertainment centers, Rockwell's goal for the Mohegan Sun was to "unite entertainment, gaming, and the cultural elements into one. The Mohegans had no structures the scale or size of this casino," Rockwell points out. "They had small longhouses and wigwams. What was important was their relationship to nature. The murals in the casino are based on Mohegan-style art," says Rockwell, who did research with a tribal historian. "The images are more interpretive than specific. We wanted to punch it up and make it contemporary."
Taking a gamble on breaking casino design molds, Rockwell used nature as a springboard to embrace the Mohegan culture. To do this, the architect divided the large, round main game room of the casino into four quadrants, each one representing a season of the year. Custom-designed carpets with Mohegan-inspired medallions indicate the seasons, and the tree, a sacred element in Mohegan lore, is used as a design motif to help create a mythical, enchanted landscape that brings the outdoors inside. Transparent glass leaves on 12 trees that measure 30' tall (9m) and 26' (8m) in diameter stretch toward the casino's 40' (12m) ceilings. These leafy spreads add the sparkle normally provided by chandeliers in a large space like this.
Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting carried Rockwell's nature themes into the lighting. "Through the use of patterns and colors, we were able to create four distinct seasons," he says. The colors of the glass leaves on the trees vary, with a silvery-white for winter, pale green with pink buds for spring, three shades of darker green for summer, and amber and red for fall. Altman 360Q 6x9 ellipsoidals with Rosco and Great American Market templates accent the leaves from above, below, and the sides, and run in preset sequences. "The lighting moves on the leaves to create a shimmer as if sunlight is passing through moving clouds and causing the shadows to change," says Gregory.
Throughout the 150,000 sq. ft. (45,720 sq. m) of casino gaming area, tribal images painted on stretched latex "skins" are accented with Litelab Litetrax strip lighting with GE PAR-20 lamps. "The skins are painted in warm tones that act like an amber gel, so no color is needed in these lights," says Gregory. Timber-framed 2'x4' (61x122cm) trellises with backlit skins bring the ceilings down to 10' (3m) over the gaming tables. These provide lighting positions as well as anchors for surveillance cameras. The 85fc of light on the tables is very bright in contrast to the 25fc of the casino with its black ceiling, blue walls, and twinkling trees. To keep glare off the playing cards, Gregory used Lumiere streamlined, surface-mount adjustable MR-16s. Three to seven lights hang over each table, depending on the game being played.
Large bandshells with painted murals are found in each quadrant of the casino, with stippled kinetic light provided by Strand Toccatas. Also used are 2kW scenic projectors with White Light cloud disks, Focus Lighting rainbow projectors, ETC Source Four ellipsoidals with effects wheels, and Altman 360Q ellipsoidals, PAR-64s, and MR-16 ZipStrips. The control system, with 1,224 Lutron Grafik-Eye 20A dimmers and a Grafik 6000 architectural console, runs a cycle of 15-minute cue loops with slow changes so that the lighting and scenery look different as patrons move through the space.
The wolf, one of the most important Mohegan tribal symbols, has been integrated into the design of the Wolf Den show lounge where live bands and name entertainers perform. Gregory refers to the Wolf Den as "the centerpiece of the whole casino," with its 70' (21m) soaring ceiling and latex skins stretched to the tops of fourteen 70'-tall (21m) lodge poles to create a large teepee structure. This is topped with a 40'-diameter (12m) steel ring with a stretched skin center. Wybron color scrollers in Source Four ellipsoidals add frontlight in shades of golden amber (Rosco 21), broadway pink (R339), light green blue (R76) and indigo (R59). Cast-plaster wolves, one atop each lodge pole, are lit with Altman 360Q 6x22 ellipsoidals with irises tightly focused on each wolf.
A 20"x20" (51x51cm) box truss runs around the perimeter of the Wolf Den, 28' (9m) from the floor. "This provides a prime position for uplights on the center medallion of stretched skins," says Gregory. There are also three box trusses over the stage, and four squares of truss over the audience area where 500 people can sit at tables and chairs. Gregory incorporated Wybron's Autopilot system so that performers can walk around the stage and be followed by 13 High End Systems Cyberlight(r) SVs. Control for the Wolf Den is provided by 144 ETC Sensor 20A dimmers and an ETC Expression console. The lighting in the Wolf Den was specified by Focus Lighting, with Production Arts Lighting supplying and installing the system.
To bridge the transition from the mythic Native American landscape of the casino to the more contemporary design of five themed restaurants that cover 20,000 sq. ft. (6,096 sq. m), Rockwell designed terraces or indoor-outdoor spaces in front of each restaurant. There are also natural elements in the designs. In the Antler Grill, for example, ceiling coves and entryways are decorated with deer antlers. These cover steel frames that support spotlights with amber Sylvania 150W lamps. "The amber light streaks through the center of the antlers," says Gregory, who used Lightolier slot aperture MR-16 downlights to accent the tables. In the Chinese restaurant, CSL microtrack MR-16 uplights and ceiling tracks shed light on bamboo-covered walls, while in the Blue Grotto Italian restaurant, Lightolier MR-16s highlight cobalt blue tiles.
The Mohegan Sun is the latest in a string of casinos owned by Native American tribes across the United States. Built in a former factory that manufactured nuclear reactor parts, the Mohegan Sun celebrates the survival of the Mohegans, aka Mohicans, the tribe immortalized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. (Though the tribe thrives, the casino is located in Uncasville, CT, named after the aforementioned last Mohican in Cooper's book.) The new casino is a partnership with South African entrepreneur Solomon Kerzner and his company, Sun International, in his first entree into the US gambling market.
The Focus Lighting team included lighting designer Diana Ades and project designers Carlos Inclan and Douglas Cox. From the teepee over the porte-cochere to the tribal themes and motifs, the Mohegan Sun design is bold and colorful, with kinetic lighting dancing through the seasons. "The atmospheric effects enhance the architecture," says Ades, "and the lighting highlights the theming, keeping the natural elements in the forefront." With rocks, waterfalls, pine trees, and textured wood (real and faux), the Mohegan Sun has brought nature inside. "It's like a magical exterior forest scene," Gregory concurs, "with the light coming through the trees and the sky in the distance."
Owner: The Mohegan Tribe Operator: Trading Cove Associates Architect: Brennan Beer Gorman Concept & Interior Architect: David Rockwell, Rockwell Architecture General Contractor: Morse Diesel Structural Engineers: DeSimone, Chaplin & Dobryn Landscape Architecture: Edward Durrell Stone Jr. & Associates Lighting Design: Focus Lighting Inc. - Paul Gregory, lighting designer; Diana Ades, project designer/manager; Carlos Inclan and Douglas Cox, project designers
Partial Equipment List: Main casino: (440) Altman 360Qs (236) Altman PAR-64s (416) Lumiere 203 Bullet lights (over gaming tables) (601) Lightolier Geo-Star MR-16 adjustable track lights (40) Altman Micro-Ellipses (342) Altman PAR-38s (1,780) Fluorescent fixtures with color sleeves Bandshell murals (6) Strand Toccata 2kW scenic projectors with White Light cloud disks (3) Focus Lighting rainbow projectors (18) ETC Source Fours with effects wheels (84) Altman 360Qs (36) Altman PAR-64s (33) Altman MR-16 ZipStrips Restaurants: (348) Lightolier Geo-Star MR-16 track fixtures (262) Lightolier MR-16 slot apertures with dichroic color filters (198) Lightolier PAR-38 downlights (109) Lightolier PAR-38 adjustable accent lights (204) Lumiere 203 Bullet lights (470) Fluorescent fixtures with color sleeves 229' Low-voltage strip lighting Various custom pendants and sconces Wolf Den: (13) High End Systems Cyberlight SVs (79) ETC Source Fours (124) ETC Source Four PARs (62) Wybron Colorams (16) Altman 360Qs with iris kits (52) Altman PAR-36 spotlights (1) ETC Expression console (1) Wybron Autopilot (144) ETC Sensor 20A dimmers Control: (1,224) Lutron Grafik-Eye 20A dimmers (1) Lutron Grafik 6000 architectural lighting control system