The world's greatest cities have a new habit of reinventing themselves as Las Vegas hotels. First there was New York, New York, with its replicas of Gotham's famed skyscrapers right there on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard. Within the past year, miniature renditions of Paris and Venice have sprung up further down the Strip, adding to the European ambiance and Old World charm that Bellagio, with its Lake Como look and Northern Italian ambiance, brought to town.
Complete with a 50-story, 1/2-scale Eiffel Tower, the Paris Las Vegas Casino Resort opened last fall, with 2,916 guest rooms, an 85,000-sq.-ft. casino with an authentic cobblestone floor, and a highly themed retail/restaurant area. Its ooh-la-la facades recreate famous French landmarks, including the Arc de Triomphe, the Paris Opera House, the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and the Hotel de Ville (City Hall).
The idea for this Paris-inspired hotel and casino was that of Arthur Goldberg, president and CEO of Park Place Entertainment Corporation. After much research and several visits to the real City of Light, two architectural firms began to sketch out a new Paris-in-the-desert: executive architects Leidenfrost, Horowitz & Associates and design architects Bergman, Walls & Youngblood. KHS&S Contractors built the exterior French facades, with Yates Silverman and Kovacs & Associates working on interior design. The Raymond Company was responsible for the decorative work and ornamentation of the interior facades.
"We were brought in very early on in the process," says Kim Lorch, vice president for design and marketing at the Raymond Company. "We met with the architects and interior designers to go over concepts and structural systems. Joyce Orias from Yates Silverman took a lot of pictures in France, so we had a lot of photographic reference material and tried to implement it as best as possible." Lorch adds that there are over 100 different facades throughout the interiors. "Each one has its own thing going on," he says, noting that all of the themed facades in the casino and the retail/restaurant zone have non-combustible steel frames.
The frames are covered with sculpted shapes cast in GFRG (glass fiber-reinforced gypsum). These shapes are first carved in foam or clay (which yields a finer surface). A mold is made with the texture of the final surface on the inside of the mold. Then a mix of GFRG and stone aggregate is poured into the mold. The mixture used determines the final surface, which can be lightly sandblasted if desired.
An example of this is the replica of the Pont Alexandre that leads to the Eiffel Tower elevators. "This is a free span with two trusses that cover over 100' across the casino," says Lorch. "The finish is a smooth GFRG, since the real one in Paris is made of metal. This replica is a pretty spectacular piece of work."
In the casino itself, the canopies over the gaming pits are modeled after the classic Art Nouveau subway entrances in Paris. The copies have steel structures clad with painted cast aluminum. There are also several very large faux trees with cement trunks and silk leaves. "This added another layer of complexity," explains Lorch. "There are sprinkler systems routed through the trees due to the coverage provided by the foliage, which blocks out the higher sprinklers."
The casino ceiling is painted to look like the sky; an effort was made from a design standpoint to avoid visible ductwork, although some are simply hidden by the trees. "The expanse of the ceiling was painted blue first," says Lorch, who explains that a mockup of the sky was made to work out the design on a smaller scale first.
Outside, the hotel looks like a compressed version of the real thing, with 300,000 sq. ft. of famous Parisian landmarks rebuilt to fit the scale of the project. KHS&S Contractors built the facades with a combination of modern construction methods and Old-World artistry. "Paris was an incredible design challenge," says Dave Suder, president of west coast operations for KHS&S. "We were recreating some of the most photographed and loved structures in the world. We knew our work would be heavily scrutinized and we had to be prepared for the task."
To prepare properly, they studied photographs of the structures and their ornate decorative detail to assure historical accuracy. "The beauty of the original Paris landmarks evolved over centuries," says Suder. "We had less than 24 months." KHS&S hand-carved miniature models of the buildings before casting the final product. Building materials (including plaster, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, faux limestone, slate, tile, and metal) give the feel of real stone and marble on lower surfaces that people can touch, while lighter-weight materials are used on upper levels.
Made of 1,146 individual cast pieces, the Las Vegas version of the Arc de Triomphe, for example, is a 60%-scale version with two of the four original sculptures ("La Marseillaise" and "The Triumph of 1810") reproduced twice each. The reproduction of the Paris Opera House includes 21 different statues based on their Parisian counterparts, and there is a partial recreation of the exterior of the Louvre, also at 60%.
Los Angeles-based lighting designer Joe Kaplan worked on the exterior and interior lighting of the project, aiming to create an exciting presence on the Strip. "We wanted a look of authenticity compared to the city of Paris, so I went there and studied how the older buildings and the Eiffel Tower are lit," he says.
He created a modern interpretation of this lighting, with most of the fixtures hidden in the architecture to make it even more magical than the real thing. High-pressure sodium floods are used as diagonal uplighting on various levels on the Eiffel Tower to give it a warm glow. "Its skeletal structure is entirely illuminated from within," Kaplan says, explaining that the fixtures are all attached to the interior of the metal structure, so that it reads as a silhouette of itself.
High-pressure sodium floods are also used on the other exterior facades, with below-grade fixtures recessed into the ground to wash the Arc, for example. Neon and other accent lights are added behind decorative elements on the facades, and fiber-optic lighting is used to illuminate statues.
The interior of the casino and retail/restaurant areas was designed to create a twilight mood. "This enables us to use desirable lighting effects in the Paris street scenes and inside the windows of the buildings," says Kaplan, who used a combination of incandescent and fluorescent lighting to create the look of inhabited stores and apartments. "The idea was to create a level of authenticity using warm colors of light with an old-time look," he notes. To give a little punch to specific decorative fixtures, low-voltage halogen accents were added.
Above the recreated Paris streets, decorative fixtures serve as the primary light source, with low-voltage cove lighting in warm colors to create a candle-like glow. "The architects and design firms really captured the essence of Paris," notes Kaplan, who successfully mixed various sources to create the desired balance of light. "Each one is tempered and tailored to the individual area," he says.
The audio systems for the project were engineered and installed by the Las Vegas office of SPL (Signal Perfection Limited, a PRG company). For the convention center portion of the hotel, the company worked with PJ Goodman of Designed Productions in Las Vegas, which designed the audio system. SPL then installed this system, which consists primarily of a Peavey MediaMatrix, Tannoy ceiling speakers, Ashly mixers, and Rane amplifiers. An AMX control system was also included.
"The remainder of the Paris property was a design/build by SPL with some input from Designed Productions," says Kent Corbell, SPL's project design engineer. The background music system is anchored by a Peavey MediaMatrix, which provides routing, switching, mixing, compression, automatic level control, and equalization for the casino, porte-cochere, registration desks, six different restaurants, restrooms, elevators, and retail spaces.
"Each restaurant has a unique source providing for one-of-a-kind yet distinctly French atmospheres throughout the resort," says Corbell. Two of the hotel's upscale dining spots, Mon Ami Gabi and the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, both have independent audio systems using Peavey X-Frames for DSP (digital signal processing)-based processing. Playback is via Adcom CD players, 360 Systems Digicart machines, and Digital Music Express, a satellite-based source for music.
For the Cabaret lounge, SPL designed a system consisting of EAW speakers, Yamaha mixing consoles, and a mixture of other outboard processing gear. The lounge system was designed for automated operation during the day using a Yamaha O3D digital console while also allowing for live mixing during the evening using a Yamaha GA-2412.
SPL also designed and installed the Paris Race & Sports Book, which is actually a satellite facility fed from the Race & Sports Book at Ballys, Paris' sister Park Place Entertainment property located next door. "By using the Ballys head-end, the two properties share the same satellite farm and video-switching equipment," explains Corbell. "A custom fiber inter-tie system allows remote operation and monitoring of the Paris system from the main equipment room at Ballys."
In the casino area, some of the speakers are tucked into the exposed metal framework of the Eiffel Tower's legs, which come right through the ceiling into the interior. In the shopping areas, most of the music comes from the individual stores and restaurants, with a combination of contemporary French music mixed with the live sounds of an organ grinder like one might find on a real Parisian street corner.
"The idea is to immerse people in the ambiance of Paris as soon as they step out of their cars," says Corbell, who explains that the background music starts right under the porte-cochere. In the registration area, soft classical music complements the ornate, gilded decor.
SPL personnel on this project were: Henry Hsu, project engineer (convention center); Philip DiPaula, senior design engineer (casino & showroom); Kent Corbell, project design engineer (entire property); Craig Schick, project manager/director of western operations; Keith Davies, site foreman; and Chris Conte, president of western operations.
Not too far away from this French confection is the new Venetian Resort-Casino-Hotel, complete with serenading gondoliers and authentic glassblowers. The 500,000-sq.-ft. Grand Canal Shoppes, an interior mall, imitates the cobblestoned walkways, arched bridges, and winding canals of Venice. The highlight of this area is a 1,200' Grand Canal, where guests can take gondola rides or stroll along the water's edge.
Much of the interior theming was handled by Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo architects (overall project design and concepts), as well as Dugall Design (interior casino design), with statuary created by Treadway Industries, and themed construction by Midwest Drywall (Grand Canal shopping area). Interior and exterior lighting was designed by Lighting Design Alliance, with Chip Israel as one of the principal designers.
"We went for an integrated lighting solution to make the facade glow softly," says Israel, who divides the exterior lighting into three scales. First is long-distance visibility of the hotel tower, which has floodlights on the higher levels to make it compete with the Las Vegas skyline. At the bottom of the tower are 1,000W GE metal halide lamps in sports lighting-style floods to add an evenly illuminated base wash. There are also two tiers of lighting on the cornices of the building, with long fluorescent tubes in extruded aluminum billboard fixtures, and metal halide PAR lamps to highlight the columns under the cornices.
Exterior themed elements reminiscent of Venice include a 200'-tall campanile (bell tower), based on the clocktower in St. Mark's Square (with the hotel signage on it), and the Doge's Palace. To light the campanile, 500W quartz GE PAR flood lamps are integrated into the base as uplight, with accent bullets on each step-back cornice to highlight the architecture.
"With the exception of the hotel tower, all of the facade lighting is incandescent with individual circuits," Israel explains. "The fixture size is small and there is dimming capability in case they decide to do an outside show." The lighting system includes six racks of ETC Sensor dimmers with control run by an astronomical clock. "What we wanted was a system where all the dimmer racks can be tied together with a theatrical interface for ultimate flexibility," says Israel. "Each architectural feature is controlled separately in its own dimming zone so can turn things on and off, as well as chase or flash the lights."
At the pedestrian level, the lighting emits the soft glow of a flickering candle. To achieve this look, there are two light sources: flicker lamps that you see through the glass in decorative pole lamps and hanging lanterns, and incandescent PAR lamps tucked into the top or bottom of the same fixtures to provide uplight or downlight. "The idea is to make it look as if the decorative fixtures are doing all the work, since you don't see the lamps that are hidden," explains Israel. "We wanted to compete with the glitter of Las Vegas, but make it as real as possible."
Most of the lighting fixtures are tucked into the architectural elements so as to be invisible. "Our goal was not to see any," says Israel. "They are concealed as much as possible." An example of this is the exterior Canal and Rialto Bridge area, where the lights are tucked underneath the bridge to define the architecture of the structure. "We let the water stay dark so you can see the reflections of the facades on the water," Israel adds. There are also 500W quartz floodlights under the handrail at the edge of the canal to add additional soft light on the facades; once again, you cannot see the light source.
Inside the Grand Canal Shoppes area (on the second floor of the hotel), there are three different lighting systems at work. First is the indirect lighting from Elliptipar 250W metal halide fixtures to accent the blue sky with a white clouds trompe l'oeil ceiling painted by Karen Kristin of Sky Art. Next is the decorative expression of the facades, with warm tones to highlight the columns, arches, and window boxes. Third are pole lights with lanterns at the pedestrian level, as well as uplights on the steps to the gondolas.
In the casino area, Prescolite MR-16 pinhole downlights with MR-16 lamps highlight the circulation and carpeted areas. Adjustable MR-16 narrow floods with 71W lamps are placed over the game tables. In the hotel's Great Hall, quartz ellipsoidals from Rambusch are used to light a barrel-vaulted painted ceiling with a large rotunda. Neon and cold-cathode accents are integrated in coves to uplight cornices and make the architecture sparkle.
The audio systems were a design/build by SPL, with three main areas: background music, the Grand Canal Shoppes, and the entry plaza. The background music and paging system covers the casino floor, restrooms, elevators, registration desk, porte-cochere, and general public spaces. It utilizes a Peavey MediaMatrix central processor with a mixture of CD and Digital Music Express sources.
"The cobblestone walkways and storefront facades of the Grand Canal area created a very challenging environment acoustically," explains Corbell. "Our goal was to enhance a naturally rich ambient environment with themed music without adding too much 'noise' to the atmosphere." This was accomplished using a series of Martin C115 speakers hidden throughout the facades.
Outside on the entry plaza, over 150 Martin C115s were placed on lampposts throughout the area to provide playback of Italian operas. Community R2 speakers--which simulate the bells of Venice--ring through the canals every hour to add to the authenticity.
SPL personnel on this project were: Henry Hsu, project engineer (casino & convention center); Kent Corbell, project engineer (front feature); Craig Schick and Mark Hoffman, project managers; Randy Robbins, site foreman; Steve Rypka, president of western operations.
One of the prettiest themed elements at the Venetian is the sky ceiling in the Grand Canal Shoppes area painted by Karen Kristin of Sky Art, the company that also did the sky ceilings at the Forum Shops at Caesars. With her associate, Chara Nelson, Kristin spent four months painting the 105,000 sq. ft. of the ceiling, with two teams of painters working from 6pm to 4am.
"We worked at night to avoid the dust and the noise of the day crews," says Kristin from her office in Colorado. She refers to the ceiling as a sky mural rather than trompe l'oeil. "We are not trying to paint one thing to give the impression of something else," she explains. "We want it to look like there is a real sky up there, and not just a ceiling."
A realistic blue sky with fluffy clouds floats over a faux Venetian canal--right down the street from a replica of the Eiffel Tower that adds a French twist to the Las Vegas skyline. New York, New York. Paris. Venice. Can Moscow and Istanbul be far behind?
The sight of the Eiffel Tower, the Opera Garnier, and the Doge's Palace rising on the Strip offers proof positive that Las Vegas is once again reinventing itself. In this decade alone, dedicated Vegas watchers have seen it morph from a slightly faded swinger's paradise to a family-fun theme park to an upscale resort; now, both these ideas have been merged to create an adult themed experience that delivers a kind of miniature version of Europe to families and high rollers alike.
As Vegas changes, so does the notion of entertainment there. The Disneyfied Vegas of the early 90s came complete with theme parks, motion control rides, and audio-animatronic figures ordering drinks at the bar. Then, embracing the luxury resort concept, in came the Cirque du Soleil and Steve Wynn's collection of Impressionist art. Now, producers have returned to the town's old standby, live entertainment--but with a twist. Gone are the days of headliners of the Frankie-Dino-Sammy variety or spectacles that gave you dinner, drinks, and the sinking of the Titanic. Say hello to Broadway.
The evidence is everywhere. Mandalay Bay currently features a touring company of the hit musical Chicago--not a 90-minute tab version, like in the old days, but the complete show, as seen in New York's Shubert Theatre. Coming soon to the Luxor is the Off Broadway institution Blue Man Group. Opening this winter at Paris Las Vegas is Notre Dame de Paris, a French pop opera based on the Victor Hugo novel (not to be confused with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Berlin version, covered in these pages in October 99). Following that, a new theatre is being built at Bellagio to host Miss Spectacular, a new Jerry Herman musical, set to open sometime in 2001. In other words, Vegas has gone legit.
Such changes have many implications for the lighting, sound, and staging specialists who help create entertainment venues in Vegas. In the past, such theatres came in two versions: headliner rooms, featuring banquettes for the guests and thrust stages to bring the stars down close, or spectacle houses with their technical capabilities engineered to the needs of specific shows, such as Splash, Jubilee, Cirque du Soleil, Siegfried & Roy, or Enter the Night. But the new concentration on Broadway-style entertainment demands new kinds of spaces; the showrooms in Paris and the Venetian provide two excellent, and very different, examples.
In Paris Las Vegas, the Theatre des Arts represents a major new trend, the space designed for an unknown purpose. According to Marc Rosenberg of Marcad Design, who consulted on the Theatre des Arts, the casino's management "didn't know what they wanted it to be. They went around the world to look at shows, and when they finally found Notre Dame de Paris, it was well after the room was designed. We kept saying 'What do you want this to be--is it a production room? Is it a headliner room?' Finally, we were told to design it as black box theatre--meaning four walls, with rigging and lighting."
As a result the Theatre des Arts (Joel Bergman, of Bergman Walls and Youngblood, was the architect), is a plain but not unattractive auditorium, featuring blue walls and seating, and nice sightlines--not surprising, given a proscenium opening of 88' wide by 35' high. On the other hand, notes Rosenberg, "No lifts were installed, although the stage floor is trappable. Sections can be cut out of the centerstage area and removed, as needed, to put in stage lifts or a trap door." In addition, there is no orchestra pit.
In other respects, the venue is highly equipped. Bob Watson notes that his firm, Protech, supplied Vegas' first fully automated rigging system for the Theatre des Arts, with 52 fixed- and variable-speed motorized line shafts. "Because the space was designed before a show was envisioned, [the owners] focused on operating overhead and open space," he says. "This system requires only two people, versus a fly floor full of six stagehands. Also, there's a creativity issue. Just as the lighting industry became more creative with the advent of new technology, now we have the same capability with rigging--you can have timed cues, multidirectional set movement, 12 pipes moving at one time, all barely perceptible to the audience. Before, you couldn't achieve those things without a fly floor full of stagehands."
Rosenberg adds the automated system was necessary because "the counterweight wall does not run all the way to the deck. I personally prefer a traditional fly house, where all the rigging is stage right or stage left, and it's all on the wall, with the locking rail there. But we couldn't do that here."
Rosenberg explains that the lighting system for the theatre is "fairly straightforward. There are three front-of-house catwalks, five motorized fixed-speed electric pipes, side light ladders, and floor pockets. There are multiple DMX universes around the place, with a Gray Interfaces Pathfinder DMX router and an ETC Sensor dimmer system, with 1,105 2.4kW dimmers and 34 6.0kW dimmers and an ETC Obsession II console, too. If we started this project today [it was begun in 1997], I would put in an ethernet backbone, either on top of, or in lieu of, DMX, to make it more flexible for the future than it is. But hindsight is 20/20."
Craig Schick of Signal Perfection Limited, the PRG company that supplied the theatre's sound system, points out the special difficulties of creating a sound system for a theatre, not knowing what kind of show it will house. Nevertheless, SPL provided a system that includes a variety of EAW speakers, a Crown IQ system, BSS Soundweb for "the core tuning of the room." The speaker clusters--left, right, and center--feature automated rigging, allowing them to be moved up and down, depending on the needs of the show.
However, Schick adds, the set design of Notre Dame de Paris is raising new sound design issues. "There's a scenic piece, a bell, that comes down on a transverse cable that comes across the front of house," he says. "The cable goes right through the center speaker cluster. So the cluster is now disconnected." As we go to press, a solution is still pending.
In addition, other adjustments will perhaps be made. Without a pit, where will the orchestra go? Will scenic lifts be necessary? On the other hand, scenery storage shouldn't be a problem, notes Bob Watson. "The dog house, the space behind the stage house, is 30' deep and nearly 60' tall; it's as large a s most stage houses for high schools. There are wing spaces that are about 30' deep and 60' tall on both stage right and left that can accommodate big wagon scenery. It's as close as you get in North America to the traditional European opera house design."
If Theatre des Arts lays bare the challenges of designing a space with no clear purpose in mind, then C2K, the showroom at the Venetian, reveals the challenges of designing a space with almost too many functions. C2K looks nothing like a traditional showroom--it's a high, narrow space, with a small stage and seating on several levels. That's because it is a showroom which converts each evening into a nightclub, but which is also set up for use as a video studio. The space is contracted out to Heftel Entertainment, the advertising agency for the Venetian. Michael Sabatier of Heftel says of the venue, "We're looking at doing TV production during the day, at least one show a night, and then opening as a nightclub afterwards. On a recent Friday night, we had Andre Philippe Gagnon [a French-Canadian impressionist] at 7pm, a country act at 10:30, Run-DMC at 12:30, and the nightclub afterwards."
The architect on C2K was Art Lara, of the Cuningham Group. Dawn Hollingsworth, of the LA-based design firm Moody, Ravitz, Hollingsworth worked on the space (Jeff Ravitz, of the same firm, was the theatre systems designer and Brad Hutchinson was project manager); she says that the room's many needs made for many challenges. "It's difficult to juggle all the requirements for video and live performance, as we all know; there are differences that have to be taken into account and compromises that have to be made. We also provided for movable trussing, for different lighting positions after hours, when it becomes a club, plus some additional lighting gear, to turn the center of the space into a dance floor." Overall, she says, "We focused on lighting the house, lighting the disco, creating performance lighting that could be added to. The key was to make it as flexible a space as possible, because there were so many requirements.
"It's difficult to anticipate every requirement with known technology, plus anything else that might happen soon," she continues, "to anticipate every need for every type of performer. You have a lot of discussions: What if it's a magic act? What if it's a mime company? It was more important to make sure there was enough power distributed in the proper places. They can always rent gear, but they'd have to live with the infrastructure."
Nevertheless, the lighting package for C2K, supplied by Tim Brennan of Matthews Studio Group Nevada, is wide-ranging. The lineup includes six Martin Mac 600s, 25 Martin Mac 500s, 14 High End Systems Cyberlights, 10 High End AF-1000 Dataflashes, 170 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, 18 ETC Source Four lekos, 14 ETC Source Four 10" lekos, 10 Altman Three-Light Sky Cycs, 38 Chroma-Q scrollers from AC Lighting, one Reel EFX DF-50 hazer, one Nova 5.0 full color laser system, James Thomas Engineering truss, one Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console, two Strong International Super Troupers, two High End F-100 fog generators, and the inevitable mirrorball. ETC provided dimmers for the venue.
Protech again provided the rigging for the space, with 26 motorized linesets, including articulating flying trusses and a motorized Austrian curtain for the stage. There is also one stage lift, provided by Gala. Sound equipment for the venue was provided by Audio West (details were not available as we went to press).
Both the Theatre des Arts and C2K fly in the face of conventional thinking about theatre design, which says that spaces should be created for clearly defined uses. But then, entertainment concepts are evolving so quickly in Vegas, it's increasingly difficult for consultants to design showrooms that are up-to-the-minute. Both these showrooms are works in progress, in the sense that they will be adapted again and again to the needs of the shows that come into them. As for what comes next in Vegas--that's anybody's guess.