City of Dreams, Macau

On 1 June 2016, City of Dreams opened its 17,000sqm retail expansion overlooking the Cotai Strip in Macau, significantly expanding the existing integrated resort that opened in June 2009.

The new structure dramatically enhances the sense of arrival for this integrated resort, in which illumination Physics was entrusted with the lighting of the façade. This is the second major property on the Cotai Strip in which illumination Physics has been responsible for the design and build of the façade lighting, having completed Studio City in October 2015. Both properties are owned by Melco-Crown Entertainment’s Lawrence Ho.

The City of Dreams retail expansion links world-class entertainment and gaming facilities to dining and exclusive luxury shopping brands. The illuminated façade needed to promote an alluring invitation in a style befitting the luxury brands awaiting the customers behind it.

illumination Physics has designed and built the lighting for many high end retail stores in recent years – Tiffany, Louis Vuitton Frankfurt, Giorgio Armani and Ermenegildo Zegna. However City of Dreams is in Macau, not Europe, Hong Kong or Melbourne and the expectations of a predominantly PRC clientele requires a little more excitement. The trick was to find the balance between sophistication and showbiz. In addition, complicating the creative process, there were a number of technical and practical limitations, which the final lighting design needed to address and solve.

At City of Dreams there are a number of classic elements to the lighting surrounding one dominant, unconventional and innovative centrepiece.

The new structure is dominated from the outside by a curving colonnade 250-metres wide and 20-metres high. Behind the columns the façade is constructed of 90 tall light boxes. It was clear from the conception of this expansion that the lighting of this centrepiece would be the key to the success of the design as it dominates the streetscape it overlooks and directly faces the competition across the road, the sprawling Venetian hotel and casino. This led to several cascading decisions; some animation of the lighting effect was required, the large colonnade would seem too monolithic without movement, and rather needed to resemble ripples on water stimulated by a breeze.

RGB colour mixing was rejected at the outset because it does not sit well with the purpose of this building and there is already a great deal of colour on the Cotai Strip. illumination Physics proposed the use of a mix of very warm white and cool white. Very warm white resembles gold and by association makes the use of cool white resemble silver; this was the beginning of the metaphor.

The next step was to make the concept into a practical and maintainable system. Challenged by access, the light box dimensions and basic characteristics had already been determined and had acquired momentum prior to the team’s input. In the event of a maintenance problem, it would be impossible to get access from the front or the back of the panels. This is a common problem in retail façade lighting in Asia and it is often the case that the practical LED ownership issues are not commonly understood during the architectural design.

Placing forward facing LED strips on the back pan was impractical and impossible to maintain, so this idea was discarded in favour of a unique genre of illumination Physics products developed for the ‘Artwall’ light feature at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Specifically, illumination Physics created a linear luminaire in which two colours of LED were installed alternately along its length. The luminaire was installed vertically on one edge of the light box as a grazing wash light across the back pan. The critical design feature was that the focused angle of colour one was 20° different from colour two, meaning that the two colours would come into focus at different places across the surface, making it possible to emphasise the far side or the nearest side to the luminaire or, by using both colours under dimming, create a transition from one colour to another. illumination Physics call this ‘IP Double Graze Linear’.

The team now had a concept for the project, which was then successfully tested in mock-ups. The aesthetics were essentially solved but the maintenance issues remained. It was determined that the light fixture would contain no electronics at all, greatly simplifying the luminaire the way illumination Physics do with all of its high temperature resistant ‘Gulf Spec’ luminaires. The drivers have been remotely located on cat walks above the ceiling spaces where they can be easily accessed. The possibility of a technical issue with the luminaires themselves was greatly reduced by their simplicity.

At the Marina Bay Sands project illumination Physics designed a cassette into the mullion detail of the light boxes that could be removed from the outside, allowing access to the luminaires, but this was not an option at City of Dreams.

Instead, the luminaires would now be installed in a similar vertical row located at the mullion that separated one light box from the next. This solution was compact and it worked optically, but maintenance access was still a concern if the need arose.

To achieve vertical access, illumination Physics created a removable access panel in the back pans of the light boxes above the ceiling spaces. The luminaires were mounted in a custom rail within which the light fixtures could slide up or down and a draw wire was attached to each one in addition to the low voltage cable. Should there ever be a failure it is now possible to remove the access panel and fish the light fixtures out of the light box one by one and lower them back into position following repair. Numerous tests were performed and the rail system perfected; a highly unusual solution to a common lighting problem in retail façade architecture.

The installation of 1,500 illumination Physics Double Graze luminaires was completed as an integrated task within the façade build program.

The team had ample time to test prior to the opening because the internal fit out lagged far behind the construction of the building envelope. The original intention was to control each of the 90 light boxes as one object, a pixel containing very warm white and cool white, using just two DMX addresses to control sixteen pieces of illumination Physics Double Graze Linear. During the testing and commissioning stage the team suggested to the client that they could greatly vary the programming of the lighting by taking individual control of each luminaire, creating sixteen pixels in each light box instead of just one. Since every luminaire had its own dedicated cable and driver output, the change was made with a control system upgrade. Two dozen test programs were produced so that the owner could participate in the process of content creation. Ho is an expressive and decisive client; his vision was clearly delineated and a preferred pattern quickly emerged.

The result is a constantly changing façade in which the lighting patterns evolve organically from one animated scene to the next.

For control of the main façade illumination Physics chose the LSC Clarity PC providing overall control of the 1,440 fixtures distributed across six universes. Seven DMX Splitters were used to distribute data to the fixtures via Artnet, which is then converted into DMX 512 via an Artnet to DMX Converter. The patch has been configured to allow for conventional FX programming via a Pixel Map. Playback occurs nightly via the inbuilt scheduler that exists in LSC Clarity. Currently, there is a show with three sequences that is replayed every 30 minutes. In addition to the inbuilt schedule the team also installed an xkey control panel allowing the operator to manually select preprogramed sequences as required. The system is protected via a UPS and there is remote access to the control system via Team Viewer.

The façade lighting was completed using just four other types of illumination Physics products. Its IP65 rated CL180 LED downlights were used in large quantities at Melco-Crown’s other property on the Cotai Strip, Studio City. They were used just as effectively in the soffit of the main entrance at City of Dreams and avoided the need for another type.

Each of the seventeen square columns that comprise the colonnade have a full height rebate in each face that are illuminated top and bottom with illumination Physics’ compact CR80 mini wash light using the 10W 5° warm white version.

The colonnade supports a wide arch in which there is a horizontal rebate running the full width of the façade. This is illuminated using one of illumination Physics’ many Rigid Series low power linear LED strip lights.

Lastly, the architectural language used for the light boxes in the grand colonnade continues on the other flank of the main entrance but here the panels are vision glass. The mullions and transoms are illuminated from the sills using a pair of illumination Physics IP Wash 48 wash lights fitted with two types of lenses to effectively cope with the optical requirements of such a long throw grazing specification.

In conclusion, the completed centrepiece is a vision in white, establishing the City of Dreams façade lighting treatment as another step in the development of Macau’s vibrant nightscape.