Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, USA

8th April 2020

Focus Lighting, together with interior architects Rockwell Group, started work on the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino back in 2015. A major renovation of the Florida-based property, which saw the addition of a large new hotel tower, an expansive outdoor area and extension of the retail promenade, the team also worked on an additional casino floor alongside the renovation of the existing casino, hotel lobby, other smaller circulation areas and amenity spaces.

There was a clear goal from the very beginning to elevate the Hard Rock brand the world has become familiar with – transforming it into more of a resort lifestyle brand, with a lot of design choices made to support this. Rockwell Group’s concept of ‘architecture is frozen music’ – a famous quote by Gothe, ties into the design of the space and connects to Hard Rock’s emphasis on the music industry. Images taken by small cameras inside musical instruments supported this idea and informed the architectural details, evoking a different musical instrument within each area. It is a much more thoughtful take on how music can inform an architectural space. 

Speaking with arc about the lighting design for this project, Christine Hope, Principal Lighting Designer at Focus Lighting, explains: “Through extensive coordination with the rest of the design team, lighting supports these shapes and forms with seamless architectural integrations and enhances the design concept through custom decorative applications. The result suggests the sophistication of a symphony of instruments, offering guests a new, refined take on the traditional Hard Rock brand.”

Above the lobby bar, the bottom curve of the hotel’s guitar tower peeks through the ceiling. Focus Lighting coordinated with Rockwell Group to create hidden pockets within the decorative trim pieces for a short piece of track and two Amerlux Hornet HP track heads to light the bar top and backbar.

Opposite the bar, layers of beaded string and chandeliers from Zaniboni evoke the delicate cadence of the symphony’s string section. Focus Lighting had each pendant custom-fabricated from a powder-coated tube, with a frosted inch-tall acrylic cylinder containing a 3w LED at the bottom. The lighting team worked with the manufacturer to select the pendants’ LED colour and found the perfect combination of filters to create warmth within each tube. The pendants were then fabricated with the outer rings at 5ft-tall and each concentric inner ring six-inches shorter, creating a rounded dome shape. 

A collection of trellises provide lighting for the casino’s gaming tables – their huge openings and colourful interior evoking the feel of a horn instrument. Linear LEDs integrated inside reveal pops of colour, creating a feeling of jazz syncopation, and a series of wide floodlights sprinkled between them add a playful dappling of light and shadow. Additionally, ball chandeliers within each trellis are integrated with a mix of internal glow points and adjustable 2700K narrow flood LED accents, each on separate circuits so the lighting team could aim accents specifically to get the ideal level and coverage for tables below.

The rhythmic placement of the hotel’s memorabilia cases evokes the keys of a piano. The cases are illuminated with alternating horizontally or vertically-mounted LED accents by Eklipse Lighting, giving each piece a unique, eye-catching look. A glow from linear Luminii Lighting LED fixtures at the top and bottom of memorabilia cases works to accentuate the warm wood finish of the wall behind them. 

Elsewhere in the hotel, a twinkling fibre-optic ceiling at the Centre Bar was inspired by the flashing cameras of fans at a live show. All of the illuminators are hidden within a ring above the bar, feeding out from a central point. Achieving their fibre-optic treatment in the Centre Bar’s complex curved ceiling required an incredible amount of coordination and detailing between the electrical contractor, lighting team and specialty fabricators. Focus Lighting mapped thousands of points in the ceiling and gave the electrical contractors a template to use for installation. 

“The scale of the project created some of the greatest obstacles; there were so many different components and teams working at once that it felt like we were building a small city. All the teams worked relentlessly to coordinate with each other and ensure we were all on the same page,” Hope explains.

“As well as this, there isn’t one straight wall in the entire building, everything is free flowing and curvy. This complex geometry was a driving force in deciding how lights were specified. For example, we used more than 20,000 feet of ceiling cove lighting throughout the lobby and casino spaces. This was challenging because we needed the majority of this to be comprised of 12-inch lenghts to make all the curves work, which resulted in more coordination and required a more careful installation.

“The use of warm-dim technology was also a big decision for us,” continued Hope. “It is an unusual choice in a casino, but it was the result of the amount of daylight in the casino’s adjacent spaces. The warm-dim LEDs ability to shift from being airy and crisp during the day to a warmer, more intimate setting during the evening helped create the sense of luxury we wanted the space to have.”

Another area of the Hard Rock hotel worth mentioning is The Oculus – an immersive arrival experience that weaves together music, video content, dynamic water features and light. Encompassing a 140-inch x 35-inch room, its design combines natural light with architectural and theatrical lighting from Acclaim, ETC, SSL, Lumenpulse, 5Ten, USAI, and Ketra. 

Coordination with water consultant WET Design allowed the lighting team to optimise the look of a central 10ft-diameter waterfall, which serves as a surface for light projection. The team tracked the waterfall’s choreography to ensure lighting was correctly timed and placed, suggesting a coat of mist to go around it – a dense curtain of particles that produces sharp, visible projections.

Focus Lighting was also tasked with choreographing sequences for the attraction’s eight daily shows. Eighteen layers of light with 4,600 points of control were designed into The Oculus, each controllable through a GrandMa console. The lighting team worked closely with Rockwell Group’s LAB and the programmers from Candela Controls to choose light colours that were in sync with music and multiple dynamic video and water elements for each four to six minute show.

“We wanted to make sure we balanced the architectural lighting with the natural daylight in the space,” said Hope. “You wake up in the morning with these pastel colours that remind you of a sunrise, then, throughout the afternoon, the feeling is more like a sunny day at the beach, with colours inspired by the ocean and sand. Towards the evening, it’s about being out on the town or at a club, so the colours become more saturated and the movement more dramatic to support that storyline. When a song ‘event’ happens, we made sure that it was a dramatic visual shift from the architectural setting. We picked colour palettes for each song that were complementary to the colours and themes of the content and song choices made by LAB, and corresponded in cadence and intensity to the time of day during which it was played; there were many factors to consider.”

Throughout the hotel and casino, there is a mix of integrated architectural lighting, display lighting and decorative elements, and while it was a challenge to merge everything together in order to create a unified, coherent lighting scheme, according to Hope it was always a big priority for everyone involved. “In the past, Hard Rock memorabilia cases were hung on the wall with not much thought given to their lighting,” she said. “At Hard Rock Hollywood, the warm glow that emits from behind cases where they meet the wall make them feel like part of the architecture.

The lighting design plays an important role in shaping the guest experience. As visitors move through the venue, they discover a combination of grand, exciting spaces with large architectural gestures and neatly integrated lighting, and more secluded areas where lighting provides a source of intimacy and comfort. Through careful integration and coordination, lighting successfully enhances the architectural language and functional use of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s new public spaces.

Pic: Peter Leifer/Cheryl Stieffel: Miami in Focus