The Treasures of Aladdin Sidebar follows the feature story.

Vegas Shoppers Uncover A Mecca Of Stores At Desert Passage

As the story goes, Aladdin traveled the world, through cities filled with exotic treasures. Today, some of those treasures--as well as dancers, acrobats, and musicians--can be found at Desert Passage, the latest entry into the already-colorful retail environment in Las Vegas. Part of the refurbished Aladdin Hotel & Casino, Desert Passage covers more than 750,000 sq. ft. (67,500 sq. m) of retail area, and was built by TrizecHahn of San Diego, CA. The architects of record on the project include RTKL of Los Angeles and Rockwell Group of New York, while Kaplan Partners Architectural Lighting (KPAL) of Los Angeles and Focus Lighting of New York handled the lighting design (see "Palatial splendor," page 38, for more on the New York firm's contributions).

Desert Passage, which opened last August, is comprised of four major areas--Morocco Gate, India Gate, the Lost City, and Merchants Harbor. In each area the music is unique, the architecture changes, and, if one looks closely, there are lights in the windows of the ancient structures. "Our goal at the outset was not to create a themed environment which acted as a piece of architectural fantasy, but to design a place so compelling, so authentic in its detailing, that it would truly transport guests to a land far, far away," explains Paul Jacob, RTKL senior vice president and managing director of ID8, the firm's entertainment design division.

The retail complex mirrors the journey of Aladdin along the spice route from Morocco to India, and lighting plays a major role in setting the tone for the journey. "Lighting is a key element in delivering the feeling of a real place," Jacob comments.

To help create these areas, RTKL called in KPAL and its design team, headed up by lighting designer Michael Gehring. One of the first directives given to Gehring and his team at KPAL was to start on the sky ceiling, a staple of the Vegas retail scene. "We knew that there were going to be sky ceilings in the design, and that the owner wanted to do sunrise/sunset scenes," explains Gehring.

As in many large architectural projects, studies were done to find the most appropriate instruments for them. "We studied linear socket strips and considered A-lamps with PAR lamps on alternating circuits to get our sunrise/sunsets, and we were actually going to go with that," Gehring says. "But after intense study by the owners and electrical engineers, it was decided that these fixtures were going to use more energy than they liked, generate more heat than they wanted, and have a shorter lamp life, and the owner wanted to minimize maintenance issues."

In the two Gates, as well as in Merchants Harbor, the team went back to the drawing board. "We used two-lamp staggered fluorescent strips continuously," Gehring explains. "It's a customized Prudential fixture in which the lamps aren't on the same level, so no socket shadow is visible." The units are controlled by a Lutron dimming system that creates the mock sunrise/sunset. "Each lamp row is controlled separately by the dimming system. One lamp in each strip has a colored sleeve, while the other lamp is bare. How we balance the sleeve color versus the bare lamp is how we do our sunrise/sunset scenes."

Time flies quickly at Desert Passage--the sunrise/sunsets take place every hour. They are also slightly different in each of the Gates, as well as in Merchants Harbor. "We used different colors for the sunsets in the Gates--in the Morocco Gate, we used amber and orange color sleeves from A.L.P., while in the India Gate, we used pinks and reds to get a different feel," Gehring says. For Merchants Harbor, the sky ceiling is more blue (reflecting the harbor theme) and actually darkens for a moody indoor rainstorm. "When we dimmed the lights for the rainstorm, we wanted a big, dark, cool, and ominous feeling, so we used a lot of blues."

The sky ceiling in the Lost City is somewhat different, because the ceiling trim tops out at an impressive 85' (26m), while the usual sky ceiling is rectangular and half that size. "It's a unique space, shaped like a big banana with a bulge in the middle," Gehring explains. "It's got mountains up high, buildings up in the mountains, and a lot of crenellated tops. To do cove lighting behind that is very difficult, especially with linear sources like fluorescents." Using directional incandescent sources would have done the job, but Gehring and the team were limited to non-incandescent sources, which would normally cast shadows on the sky.

The solution to this problem was to marry the linear fixtures to the facades themselves, thus eliminating the shadows. "We located each fixture specifically for each facade--the sky ceiling in the Lost City is done with all kinds of different cove light locations," Gehring adds. Once the shadow problem was eliminated, there was the fact that the ceiling was 85'. "We had to get lights in the mountains that shined out toward the center of the area, which would give us enough light to look like daytime. Fluorescent just wasn't strong enough, so we ended up using dimmable metal-halide."

After completing the sky ceilings in each section of Desert Passage, Gehring and his team tackled the building facades. "We wanted to wash the facades that are above eye level and the retail windows," he explains. To illuminate the large number of scenic pieces in the project, which were constructed by Keenan Hopkins Suder and Stowell (KHS&S) of Las Vegas, Gehring and his team chose neon, provided by N.S.I. Cathode of Anaheim, CA. "There were so many curves in the facades and neon is the only source that we could have used in such a tight situation. The neon fixtures are very efficient in energy usage and they're small, so it was easier to integrate them into the facades."

Neon isn't necessarily the most inexpensive source of illumination, but due to the size of Desert Passage, it became economically feasible. "When you have giant quantities of neon, it gets cheaper," Gehring explains. "If you dim it, the price of fluorescent goes up and neon also goes up, but not as much." N.S.I. also introduced Gehring and his team to a neon source with a new color temperature, which he used extensively. "We've had years of struggling, trying to find a good warm neon, and NSI introduced us to a new color that's very warm and we're quite happy with it."

The next step for the lighting team was the accent lights, found in the windows of scenic elements. In the Morocco and India Gates, Gehring and his team relied on recessed MR-16s for the accent lighting to illuminate elephant heads, column capitals, and so on. "The reason we used the MR-16s is because they're so small, and in part because of the size of the project," Gehring says. "They're running 277V throughout the building because it's so large, and voltage drop is a huge issue." To compensate for the drop, Gehring simply used the low-voltage MR-16s, which have their own transformer. "If we had used incandescent fixtures, we would have had to use either a stepdown transformer, which was deemed too costly by the owner, or 277V incandescent lamps, and there is a very limited choice there."

Fluorescent fixtures also played a role in the accent lighting. Gehring used single-lamp T8 fluorescent strip lamps in 2', 3', and 4' lengths in windows to add to the dimensional feel of the space. "We even put lights in back of closed shutters, so it looks like someone is home," Gehring says. The color temperature for the accent lighting is 3000K in most of the project, which was dictated primarily by the sky ceiling. "By having a blue sky ceiling, you're already reflecting bluish light into the space, so we wanted to contrast that with the warm light coming from the windows." The accent lighting in the Gates as well as the Lost City is 3000K, with 3500K in the Merchants Harbor area to vary the look within the massive space.

The final layer is the decorative lighting that seems to illuminate the area closest to the actual retail space. "We wanted people to look at those decorative sconces that are just softly glowing and get the impression that they're the fixtures creating the light that they see," Gehring explains. For Desert Passage, there were two kinds of decorative fixtures--ornamental metalwork and glass-lensed. The fixtures themselves were sourced by RTKL, and came directly from Morocco, with electrical parts added in the US so they carried a UL label.

Again, because of the size of the facility, Gehring was limited to using lamps that were 277V with medium-base sockets. "There are only two lamps with medium-base sockets that were the right voltage. One was a 100W frosted A19 lamp, while the other was a clear 25W tubular T10 lamp made originally for exit signs." In the end, Gehring used the 100W lamps in the grillework fixtures and the 25W lamps in the lensed fixtures. "It worked out quite well, but doing scenic lighting while being limited to that voltage really ties one's hands."

To control the many layers of illumination in Desert Passage, Gehring chose a Lutron system. "Lutron is really good at architectural dimming, and they have great people that come and work with you on programming it and setting it up." The mile-long project is also configured so that every light can be controlled at one primary panel. "Lutron ended up stringing together eight different HomeWorks Interactive processors combined with dozens of GP Dimming Panels so that the whole project can be master-controlled," Gehring adds.

In the end, the difference between Desert Passage and its Vegas retail rivals is the detail, Gehring says. "TrizecHahn invested a lot of time, effort, and money, and RTKL worked hard to create a deep facade zone where you could really feel that you were in a village. We have faux windows, but we have light in them in such a way that you can imagine that somebody lives up there. In other retail environments, if there's light up there, and there usually isn't, it's frosted glass or acrylic, and it's obviously fake." Desert Passage, with its rich light layers integrated into the meticulous scenic elements, gives shoppers the impression of three dimensions. "Our lighting is not shining onto the surfaces, it's shining from within, and that makes us stand out from the competition," the LD concludes.

The Treasures of Aladding: Sidebar

Palatial Splendor

Rockwell Group and Focus Lighting, both of New York City, worked on a number of specialty areas within Desert Passage. Focus Lighting president and principal designer Paul Gregory says the two firms collaborated on the Sultan's Palace, the Garden Courtyard, the Orangerie, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Lower Level Lounge.

No space epitomizes the spirit of Aladdin more than the Sultan's Palace, a luxuriously colorful space (rendering, left). "Rockwell tends to use color more liberally than other architectural firms generally do," says project designer Brett Andersen. "Instead of fighting it, we tend to jump on the bandwagon and use color in any way we can to accentuate the project."

Rather than a sky ceiling, the Sultan's Palace is home to a wonderful gold leaf dome. "It's a high ceiling with a dome that has a center oculus, which is illuminated by straw-colored Prudential fluorescent fixtures," Andersen notes. To further add mood to the space, there is a 12-point gold star pattern on the dome highlighted by darker gold streaks. "This very large star pattern is illuminated by PAR-38 fixtures in the cove that align with its applique."

The Sultan's Palace houses a number of grillework balconies that shine as if someone is actually living on the other side. "Each of the keyhole balconies has a screen that mounts to the front, and we backlit it with fluorescents from the inside," says Focus Lighting assistant project designer/on-site coordinator Sepp Spenlinhauer. "We also frontlit the screen with a Lumiere MR-16 fixture placed on a small adjustable arm that essentially disappears." Inside the balcony, the fluorescent is gelled to appear red, while the Lumiere MR-16 on the arm is a goldenrod color (drawing, facing page).

The most notable part of the Sultan's Palace is the monkey chandelier that towers over the space, which keeps watchful eyes on visitors and employees alike. "One of the most challenging aspects of the project was coordinating the monkey chandeliers," Andersen explains. "Originally, it was intended that we would have not only ambient light coming from the globe, but accent the monkeys themselves." The solution to keeping the monkeys, as well as the space, illuminated was simple. "The manufacturer cut out a section on the top of the globe that lights the monkeys, while the rest of the globe is frosted," Gregory notes. "Basically, you get two treatments from one light source."

The next area that Focus worked on was the Garden Courtyard, which has the look of an exterior space but is located inside the mall. "The Garden feels completely different from the rest of the interior spaces--it's very realistic," Gregory remarks. The Garden features a sky ceiling, illuminated by 114 Prudential linear fluorescent fixtures. "The fluorescent lighting on the sky ceiling is done in two colors--a dark blue (Rosco 84) for a night look, and a light blue (Rosco 60) for a day look," Spenlinhauer notes.

To augment the ceiling treatment, ETC Source Four PARs were placed along the mid-height balcony that runs the length of the Garden. "Besides the Source Four PARS, we also have ETC Source Four framing projectors, which aim up into the ceiling and use cloud templates to reinforce the cloud shapes that are painted there," Andersen says.

Architecturally, the Garden houses a number of two-level arches. "To illuminate them, we have PAR-38 flood lamps placed on the balcony above the tenant storefront to uplight each of them," Andersen notes. The units give a lovely glow to the arches, courtesy of two sheets of pale amber gold gel.

To add further to the outdoor feel of the space, the team at Focus turned to theatrical templates. "We wanted to reinforce the idea of a naturalistic exterior space, so we have leaf templates in Source Four ellipsoidals that are shot from one balcony to the arches of the other balcony," Andersen says. After trying several different patterns on-site, Spenlinhauer chose the Rosco 7863 branching leaves template, a favorite among theatre designers.

Bordering on the Garden is the Orangerie, an area dominated by six enormous chandeliers that contain 21 hanging orange-colored globes, which are 6", 9", and 12" in diameter. "They hang like a bunch of grapes," Spenlinhauer explains. The Orangerie is an interior space that features PAR-56 downlights as well as grillework illuminated in the same fashion as the Palace, using an arm-based fixture. The grillework is done in two tones: "backlit by golden amber, which is Rosco 21, and frontlit by the new Lee Glass Orange #9," says Spenlinhauer.

The remaining spaces that Focus worked on are the Hall of Mirrors, a transition space that features a patchwork ceiling, and the Lower Level Lounge, dominated by a large glowing disc as its primary light source. Experience them all at Desert Passage. And, If your magic carpet takes you east, see "The Manhattan projects" (page 60) for more on Focus Lighting's latest New York work.