By Samantha Schwirck
Visitors often arrive in Las Vegas prepared to pull all-nighters. Lighting designers working on a mall renovation project? Not so much. However, the revamp of the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Palazzo needed to be completed between the hours of midnight and 8 am—enabling the stores to remain open during the day—so lighting designers from KGM Architectural Lighting (New York City) adopted their own “when in Vegas” mindset and worked around the clock to get it done. “Whenever we visited the site, we had to deal with jet lag while also becoming nocturnal, which resulted in a lot of weird sleep schedules and naps scattered throughout the day,” says lead designer Dorothy Underwood of KGM.
KGM was just one of the firms burning the midnight oil, but the team was no stranger to the Palazzo. In fact, KGM designed the original IES Illumination Award-winning lighting scheme for the hotel and shopping mall in 2007. In 2019, they returned to the scene to upgrade existing sources and modernize the design. “When ownership wanted to renovate the Grand Canal Shoppes, they rehired the same architect (HKS), lighting designer, MEP engineer (MSA) and A/V consultant (4Wall) that did the original work,” Underwood says.
With marble walkways and illuminated painted sky ceilings, the 53,000-sq ft Venetian-inspired venue contains high-end stores, restaurants and entertainment options. Prior to the renovation, the mall felt dark and gloomy, due to both the existing materials and the color temperature of the existing lighting. “The goal was to refresh the space with a feeling of lightness, bring the outdoors in—as much as possible in a completely artificial environment—and create a space where people wanted to hang out and spend more time,” Underwood explains.
The lighting design helps accomplish this by adding more indirect light to vertical surfaces and the ceiling, without significantly increasing the illuminance levels at the floor. In addition, tunable-white lighting mimics the effects of daylight at painted sky murals throughout the venue.
In the main oval space, for example, a tunable-white dual-head linear asymmetric cove fixture uplights the sky mural and shifts in color temperature throughout the day. “We also added a ring of new LED downlights in the oval ceiling from the same manufacturer as the original 2007 specification for visual continuity with existing PAR-lamp fixtures,” Underwood says.
Existing downlights in the space were relamped with 3500K LEDs for a crisper, brighter feel, and existing gas sconces were replaced with contemporary versions with flickering flames that reinforce the outdoor feeling.
Tunable-white technology was also used in the heart of the space, where a previously empty atrium has been brought to life by a new sculpture called The Wishing Tree. Reminiscent of a twisting olive tree, the 14-ft tall art piece contains boughs that stretch 28 ft across the central gallery. The KGM team worked closely with sound artist Jason Reinier and 4Wall to create the dynamic 24-hour installation, where “subtle changes in light and sound make you feel like you truly are outside in a serene oasis,” Underwood says.
To achieve the effect, existing fixtures were relamped with more efficient sources; a tunable asymmetric cove was added at the sky mural; and static-white asymmetric coves were added in the niches where the ceiling is white. “Hidden amongst the flowers at the base of the tree, we located Rosco X-Effects LED Projectors with rotating gobos to create a dynamic dappled-light effect, as if sunlight is shining through leaves shifting in the wind,” Underwood says. “These fixtures had to be powerful enough to compete with the high ambient light levels needed for retail, and yet small enough to hide amongst the flowers in the planter.”
The fixtures are also RGBW, and change colors subtly throughout the year to match the season. On a daily basis, the lights emulate the sequence of sunrise, fading from a deep nighttime blue, through oranges and pinks, and into a more neutral white, and vice versa for sunset. “This is all coordinated with a detailed audio design which brings morning and evening birdsong into the space,” Underwood adds. “The tree sculpture utilizes metallic leaves, which reflect the uplights to create glimmering sunspots on the ceiling, and is also peppered with custom glass birds, giving the space a colorful, luxurious feeling.”
The focus shifted to indirect light in concourse spaces. “We added a detail above each existing stone portal surround in order to provide more indirect lighting within the corridors without removing the stonework,” Underwood says. “We also added downlights with linear-spread lenses in front of each major retail display window to make them appear more inviting.”
Throughout the concourses, all coves were replaced with linear LEDs, and all existing downlights were relamped with 3500K LEDs. “We also added custom glass ring chandeliers to provide a contemporary sparkle, and act as a perch for additional glass birds,” Underwood adds.
The two-level Wynn Bridge marks the edge of the project scope. “The client [Brookfield Properties] wanted to keep the original chandeliers, so in the lower level we simply replaced all coves with linear LEDs, and relamped all downlights with 3500K LEDs, in order to make the whole space feel brighter,” Underwood says. “In the upper level of the bridge, we also added the ring pendants, to help it tie into the rest of the renovation.”
The existing ETC control system was used for the majority of the project. “On the technical side, the biggest challenge was that the original electrical panels from 2007 were only set up for MLV dimming, which we could not use for our new dynamic elements,” Underwood says. “For The Wishing Tree, we embedded a standalone DMX system within the base of the banquette. For the tunable-white coves, 4Wall needed to upgrade the some of the dimmer racks to support 0-10-V controls.”
The Wishing Tree’s system also contains a DMX Cue Server, which links back to the timeclock on the overall controls. “This allowed us to achieve everything we wanted to accomplish with that installation without having to make major modifications to the existing system,” Underwood adds—no matter the time of day.-
Dorothy Underwood, Associate IALD, LC, LEED AP BD+C, Member IES, is a senior associate at KGM Architectural Lighting.
Martin van Koolbergen, IALD, LC, AIA, LEED AP, Member IES, is a partner with KGM.