"The theming of the Bellagio is not as obvious in comparison to the Mirage or Treasure Island," says LD Jonathan Howard of London-based DHA Lighting Ltd., adding, "it's definitely more grown-up." Considered to be the most expensive hotel in the world, the $1.6 billion Bellagio Resort and Casino opened to the public just before midnight October 15 with a fanfare of 1,200 water jets erupting in a curtain of spray and light, reaching heights of 240' (73m) before cascading back down into the shimmering waters of the ersatz Lake Como below.
The Bellagio represents the third in a series of wildly successful collaborations between prominent resort owner Steve Wynn and DHA principal designer David Hersey, a relationship which began more than a decade ago with Hersey's lighting for the trendsetting volcano show outside the Mirage Hotel. It continued with his design of the equally popular Buccaneer Bay pirate show at the adjacent Treasure Island Hotel and Resort.
Howard and colleague Desmond O'Donovan joined Hersey in a two-year effort to design and supervise all the exterior lighting for the 120-acre Italian-themed resort, including the hotel tower, villas, pedestrian bridges, driveways, porte-cochere, and pool deck. In addition, DHA designed a small portion of the interior lighting, including a courtyard directly behind the registration desk and the highly themed conservatory space (see "Season cycle," page 44) just inside the main lobby.
"Steve wanted the tower to be lit like an architectural landmark even as the village below was to be ablaze at night," explains Howard. "The initial thought was that the fountains should be telling a story, while the building behind would serve as some sort of projection screen. David was very keen on the idea, but a combination of difficulties including weather, viewing angles, and the high cost of building and equipping projection bunkers quickly killed it. At the Bellagio, the building serves primarily as a backdrop to the show, compared to the Mirage and Treasure Island, where the towers are much more connected to the show itself."
Lighting the highly detailed tower building proved to be a unique challenge all in itself. Five-foot deep cornices run horizontally across the building at the 12th, 29th, 33rd, and 36th floors, a major stumbling block to the use of traditional Las Vegas-style floodlighting. "Steve really hates shadows," adds Howard, "so rows of 2800K white neon were placed at each cornice level to mitigate them, even though we knew we would never be able to match the colors of the neon and the floodlights exactly."
After considerable research and calculations, the design team opted to use asymmetrical floodlight fixtures manufactured by Thorn Lighting in Europe and imported into the US by Northstar Lighting, which also supervised the UL approval process. "We specified a linear, double-ended metal-halide lamp rated at 2,000W," explains Howard, "which is extremely uncommon in the North American market." Finding places to locate and conceal these fixtures in and among the many themed rooftops and structures was a "huge problem all in itself, but by dividingthe building into three quadrants, we found that we could light the facade as evenly as could be expected from setbacks ranging in distance from 50' to 150' [15-46m]."
When the fountain show begins, custom Wybron Aquaram color scrollers controlled via DMX from an ETC Expression slowly change the color of these floodlights to a darker color, such as blue or red, depending on the show. "The Aquarams," notes O'Donovan, "are functional and primarily serve as a prelude to the show, not as an integrated part of the show itself."
The placement of the VIP suites on the upper floors of the building is defined by a series of tall arches framed on either side by stone columns, dramatically uplit with 70W Philips MasterColor lamps in BK Lighting adjustable PAR lights. Similar fixtures lamped at 35W are mounted at each column capital to further reduce shadows, while button medallions between each arch are rearlit with circular bands of 2800K neon.
"David persuaded Steve to let us rearlight the Bellagio signage mounted on the face of the cupola with warm white neon for a classier appearance," explains O'Donovan, "and we added PAR lamps to soften the background behind the graphics. This also helps to emphasize the silhouette against the drum shape of the cupola." Inside, 300W high-pressure sodium floodlights sharply define the domed ceiling of the cupola, while on the roof, a small number of floodlights highlight the top of the tower itself.
The landscaping around the Bellagio features a wide range of olive, Lombardy pine, and Italian cypress trees located alongside driveways, the lake, Las Vegas Boulevard, and in many planter areas. "Steve Wynn didn't want us to use recessed in-grades to light the landscape, since they tend to dazzle the guests walking near or over them and also create a lot of glare," explains O'Donovan. Instead, DHA specified nearly 1,000 adjustable exterior fixtures manufactured by both BK and Hydrel. Many of these were equipped with hex-cell louvers, glare shields, and either White SON HPS or MasterColor lamps, both of which are characterized by long lamp life and crisp white color.
The themed streetlights within the property boundaries were made by Italian manufacturer Neri Lighting and are also lamped with MasterColors, boosted by the addition of a warm color filter that creates the appearance of incandescent lighting without the corresponding problem of short lamp life. On Las Vegas Boulevard, streetlights fabricated by Los Angeles-based Triton Chandelier were specially designed to resemble the Neri fixtures while simultaneously accommodating the mounting of two speakers to support audio playback for the water fountain show.
Similar to the famed Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York's Central Park, the canopies of the trees along the property are draped in twinkle lights. "This was a first for the Strip," says O'Donovan, adding that he "was pleased to discover that the movement of the lights in the wind adds yet another layer of sparkle to the landscape lighting design."
To light the exteriors of the Tuscan village rising up right from the water's edge, DHA borrowed underwater lighting technology developed by W.E.T. for the fountain show, "basically an ETC Source Four and HPL lamps in an underwater housing," says Howard. "This had an added benefit in that the divers would know what they were dealing with," notes O'Donovan. Approximately 80 adjustable fixtures, some with blue filters and others clear, were used to light the facades which front the lake. On the rooftops above, dozens of small HPS and metal-halide floodlights illuminate the roof tiles and are concealed behind specially designed Italian finials with maintenance access panels nearby. "As designed," says Howard, "the lamp temperature itself creates the color, either a crisp white or a golden glow."
Along the pedestrian walkways and on the bridge over Tropicana Boulevard, "Steve tasked us with creating lines of light," explains O'Donovan. All the handrails were designed to accept neatly concealed rows of 2800K neon front and back. At the top of the escalators which lead guests into the marquee sign entrance off Las Vegas Boulevard, the barrel vault ceiling is softly lit with asymmetrical fluorescent wallwash fixtures. A long row of custom pendants by Alger Lighting is suspended above the moving walkways which direct guests towards the main entrance of the resort.
The ceiling of the impressive glass-and-wrought-iron porte-cochere features dozens of small, custom-designed incandescent "rosettes" with frosted glass cylinders which provide a soft, indirect glow. Warm white neon in coffers lines the edge of the ceiling, and twin rows of chandeliers also made by Alger hang below, each measuring 8' (2.4m) in diameter. A small group of 300W incandescent PARs were specified in two of the chandeliers to illuminate a large painted mural on the wall above the revolving entry doors. Bronzelite floods, finished in verdigris to match the style of the wrought-iron structure, were mounted to the outside edge of the porte-cochere and scallop the sloping roof with light.
Guests stepping through the wood-paneled revolving doors ("manufactured in Switzerland complete with 230V lamps nearly impossible to find in the US," laughs O'Donovan) find themselves standing in a long, vaulted lobby facing the ornate reception desk. Directly behind reception is a heavily themed Italian courtyard with planters, fountains, and stone columns uplit by recessed MR-16 fixtures. Functional skylights at the ceiling provide natural light during the day; in the evening, approximately 30 ETC Source Fours mounted on carefully hidden theatrical trusses create a dramatic night atmosphere. Decorative wall sconces add to the authenticity, and the entire area is controlled by a small Sensor dimmer rack and Unison astronomical clock, both by ETC.
The illumination effort pleased both the design team and its most demanding critic. "Steve Wynn is very focused on lighting," says O'Donovan, "and right up until the last minute he kept asking us to add small details or was changing light levels inside the casino. The night before opening I found myself wading through a fountain with my trousers rolled up, replacing deep blue lenses with clear ones. Mr. Wynn had decided the night before that the blue wash was not bright enough, so Bronzelite sent new lenses counter-to-counter from Texas that day." Desmond laughs, and adds, "I tell you, that water was cold, but he was right, it wasn't bright enough."
Principal of LA-based City Design Group, Ted Ferreira is a lighting and show systems consultant specializing in themed facilities.
In the Conservatory area just past the Bellagio lobby, Los Angeles-based Lifescapes and Las Vegas-based Production Resource Group worked with DHA and the Bellagio architectural team to create a highly flexible presentation space with several enormous planters built to support a variety of seasonal shows. Combining elements of scenery, floral arrangements, live trees, water features, audio, and lighting, the first of these was a "Harvest" show whose central element was an enormous cornucopia built by Scenic Technologies in Las Vegas.
"Each of the planter boxes," explains O'Donovan, "is built on a special lift that allows the hotel staff to lower them 25' (7m) down into the basement where there are access doors and a truck ramp." There are also three cranes under the floor to lift the heavier objects in and out of the room as necessary to create each individual show.
For lighting, DHA specified an array of custom pipe supports attached to the decorative trusses that support the glass dome ceiling system. More than 160 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs are mounted to this "eggcrate grid" to light the foliage and the scenic elements from above. In addition, 28 Irideon(TM) AR500s(TM) were turned upside down and mounted with half snoots at the sides of the room, creating a deep blue color wash "for moonlighting," says O'Donovan.
"This area changed a number of times during design," he continues, "and we soon discovered that a few of our original ideas didn't work out exactly as we had planned. In the planters, for example, the low-level landscape lighting on flying leads we designed to be adjustable and move with each show, but we quickly discovered that there were fewer practical locations to set them than we would have liked." But overall, the designers are pleased at their attempt to harness nature.