Neon, LED, sodium, halogen, and fluorescent sources combine to create the award-winning illumination of the Golden Moon Casino in the rural area of Philadelphia, MS. Owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the hotel/casino was designed by the Miami, FL architecture firm of Arquitectonica, with the exteriors lit by Robert Daniels of Brilliant Lighting Design, also a Miami-based firm. The colorful lighting scheme won multiple awards this season, taking home a GE Award of Excellence, the prestigious GE Edison Award, an Award of Excellence in the Paul Waterbury IIDA Awards, and an Award of Merit from the IALD.

“The Choctaw are a very successful tribe,” notes Daniels, adding that they are the largest employer in the area, through the casino and other businesses. The Golden Moon is their second casino. “They have one casino already, the Silver Star, but it isn't very fancy. They wanted a Las Vegas-style hotel and casino to put them on the map.” This $300 million project, with a 90,000-sq.-ft. casino boasting 1,750 slot machines and 56 game tables, and a 600-room hotel with spa and gourmet restaurants, should do the job.

In his first collaboration with Bernardo Fort-Brescia, design architect for Arquitectonica (Sergio Bakas served as project manager), Daniels was faced with a building that is out of the ordinary. “It is an incredible design but difficult as well,” says the LD, pointing out that the architecture is extremely fluid. “This is a building with a lot of non-square edges.” The design features an ascending, curving 22-story high-rise hotel tower that rests upon a two-story, 800'-diameter casino. An internally lit sphere, the 82'-diameter “golden moon” sits atop the structure (with the elevator housing hidden in the sphere to preserve the pure lines of the architecture). A uniquely shaped ellipse integrates a pedestrian bridge into the low rise, connecting the new casino to an older existing one across the road, all part of the Pearl River Resort.

“The moon sphere was on hold for one year,” says Daniels, pointing out one of the challenges of the project. “We knew we were going to have to make it glow, but we didn't know what the surface was going to be.” When finally built, the surface of the sphere turned out to be self-cleaning Teflon-coated canvas stretched between the struts of a geodesic dome. “There is no access for cleaning, so the rain has to do the job,” Daniels explains.

The canvas allows for only 22% light transmission, which meant that lighting the sphere internally to make it glow could be tricky. “We couldn't directly light the canvas skins, as you could see the light sources,” says Daniels. Instead, he bounced light off the metal deck that serves as the floor for a restaurant, bar, and observation deck inside of the sphere (imagine the 25-story views over the rolling Mississippi countryside).

In fact, Daniels added a special double-decker platform under the restaurant as a lighting position. The upper level is used to hang 50 Ruud sodium floodlights with GE LU400/DX lamps as bounce light and 55 Ruud halogen spots with GE narrow-spot PAR-38 lamps aimed directly at the canvas. The bottom level holds an additional mix with eight additional sodium floods and 12 of the halogen fixtures. “What looks like a simple glowing sphere took a lot of adjusting,” says Daniels.

To light the smooth, curving wall, Daniels used a technique comprising a double row of Ruud 400W and 250W spot fixtures with G3 deluxe sodium lamps set in a “Y” pattern. “At 25 stories high you need a double row of fixtures moving progressively away from the wall,” he explains. The wall covering is stucco-covered orange foam on steel-studded walls, in which no penetrations or attachments were allowed. “The deluxe sodium lamps interacted nicely with the orange-ocher color of the wall,” says Daniels, adding that the same lamps work differently on the yellow canvas of the sphere.

In fact, one of the biggest challenges Daniels faced was balancing the light levels to create an overall composition in which the sphere is the brightest, then the ellipse, the blue fascia, and the curved wall. The curved fascia on the building is brushed aluminum and lit with reflected custom-designed blue neon. There are special curved tubes tucked into coves so that they are not seen during the daytime. Along the edges of the facade is marquee-style lighting running in a 2" chrome-plated tube. Daniels used alternating amber and red long-life carnival lights set 12" on center. The amber lights are part of the after-dark preset lighting that remains on for 12 hours per night, while the red units run in a chase sequence during the lighting that accompanies a $2-million water show in front of the hotel.

The water show takes place two or three times each evening. At show times, the exterior lighting also goes into show mode as the building serves as a backdrop for the dancing fountains. The sodium lights in the sphere are turned off, and the lighting on the curved wall goes off, panel by panel, making the building dark and drawing the eye toward the fountains. The amber edge of the building turns red and starts chasing along the top of the curved wall in a large sweeping motion while a double row of blue neon on the large glass wall of the hotel chases in vertical stripes. This neon is housed in custom-designed light boxes placed between the glass wall and the floor beams along the vertical elevator shafts.

During the water show, the halogen fixtures in the sphere start popping on and off quickly to create a lightning effect. “The whole building dances along with the fountains,” notes Daniels. “The entire building interacts as a light show, not just one wall or a part of the structure,” says Daniels. “This is a new concept.”

The heart of the lighting control system for the exterior lighting is an ETC Express Playback Controller and an ETC Unison architectural DR dimmer rack with six dual 20A dimmer modules. There are also three Intelligent Lighting Controls relay racks, controlled by the ETC Express Playback Controller.

Barbizon Lighting's Orlando offices provided the design and integration of the control system. “The programming was relatively simple,” says Barbizon's project manager Steve Cullipher. The computer control for the fountain show sends a MIDI command to the Playback Controller at show time. “The lighting show is timed to the fountain in this case,” Cullipher points out.

The large glass wall on the front of the hotel creates a 22-story-high vertical surface. The wall is lit using a custom-built LED system to create 165 twinkling stars. “The challenge here is a 200' glass wall, part of which is floor-to-ceiling windows in the guest suites,” says Daniels. “The question was how to light the wall. The guests wouldn't want to see lighting fixtures outside their windows.”

Daniels was limited to working with a grid system of mullions in the glass. His solution is a low-voltage system for the LEDs with the power running vertically along the mullions. “The architect wanted twinkle in the stars,” Daniels notes. To create the twinkle, a four-circuit system was used, with one circuit continually on and the other three dimming gradually. The stars turn off during the water show.

“Twinkle is an interesting concept. If you look at the sky, some stars stay bright, while others twinkle,” he adds. “It's not just on and off, it's gradual.” The result is a series of special twinkle sequences, with dimming from full power to 40% in an overlapping pattern. The LED “stars” can be seen from a half-mile away, twinkling away. “I had to work on the speed of the dimming. It was very time-consuming with a lot of fine-tuning on-site, but worth it in the end,” says Daniels. “Being on-site often allowed me to work out the bugs and solve engineering problems as we went along.”

A canopy that comes out over the entrance to the casino has 175W metal halide Spectrum fixtures to create a downlight wash of 6-8fc on the ground. Each of the 15 columns under the canopy is lit with four Kim in-ground fixtures with 100W metal halide lamps and blue filters. The columns are wrapped in a perforated gold metallic skin to let the blue light shine through dramatically. Lines of similar blue light radiate outward on the canopy soffit, created by Crescent fluorescent luminaires with blue lenses and long-life GE T8 lamps.

“When you drive up at night, the brightest thing you see is the spherical moon. There are 100fc inside with that 22% light transmission,” says Daniels. “It is very dramatic, and very unique. There are no other buildings like this in the Mississippi countryside, where a church steeple is about as tall as they get. This is an example of great architecture, as well as an oasis of technology and entertainment.”

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.