October 13, 2021
Unlike past resort debuts in Las Vegas, Circa opened with much quieter fanfare. It opened last December in a year forever linked to the global pandemic and worldwide shutdown.
Circa serves as a visual beacon of sorts that draws visitors to the historic part of town while seamlessly fitting in with the surrounding vintage neon signage of other famous landmarks in the Fremont Street area.
Accomplished casino developers, Derek and Greg Stevens built Circa on the combined sites of three properties the brothers had acquired: The Mermaids Casino, The Las Vegas Club, and the Glitter Gulch Club. Collectively, the properties command an premium site at the corner of Fremont and Main Streets.
“The new resort looks modern, and yet it looks like it belongs in Fremont Street,” states Paul Steelman, CEO of entertainment and gaming venue specialists Steelman Partners, which served as the Circa project architects.
The goal of the lighting design – which was handled by Shop 12 Design, a Steelman affiliate that also specializes in visual features – was to create lighting that could visually compete with other prominent downtown Las Vegas properties as well as the Strip.
An integrated media façade facing Fremont Street forms the core element of a multi-faceted lighting design. Using modern lighting technology, the designers gave a nod to the vintage Edison light bulb style that has been famously associated with Las Vegas’ beginnings.
Construction began in February 2019, but the site was difficult to access and complications of COVID-19 made it even more challenging. Despite supply chain disruptions and while adhering to strict pandemic safety measures, the work crews achieved their goals. The result is a testament to all involved, including the client, construction manager Tre’ Builders’ partners David Agnello and Steve Hamlin, as well as project manager Mo Pierce.
The hotel tower is the stand-out new landmark for the area with its 35 stories that rise above seven floors of podium (a height restriction imposed due to the proximity of North Las Vegas Airport). The south façade is an attention-getting canvas conceived of by Shop 12’s President Jon Champelli, who envisioned a media wall integrated into 28 spandrel panels in the double-height curtain wall units that comprise the façade envelope. The LED component is introduced at each floor slab, approximately 10 feet apart vertically.
The depth of the LED display on each floor is limited to a 1-foot height due to the design of the curtain wall spandrel panels. The LED media spans the full width of the south façade, with the LED density becoming progressively less at the western end to produce a visual gradient.
Shop 12’s design centered on closely spaced RGBW luminaires, with each RGBW pixel spaced at 2.2 inches. The use of illumination Physics’ data pixels illuminated an area of 1 37/64 inch for each fixture. In proportion, the Shop 12 design mimicked Las Vegas’ illumination history and the pervasive use of the incandescent signage bulb in the downtown area. At night, that historical influence is unmistakably recreated in RGBW. Most importantly, the new LED fixtures were to be as invisible as possible during the daytime so that there would be no indication that there was lighting embedded in the façade.
Individual control of every pixel in 4 colors was required – a total of 94,675, including the signage. In daylight, the LED lighting equipment is imperceptible, blending with the curtain wall spandrel panels. Illumination Physics precisely matched the custom white color of the painted parts to the curtain wall panels.
Brainstorming a Solution
Although illumination Physics has manufactured a range of LED pixels mounted in strings for years like other manufacturers, it was an early adopter of moving from DMX onboard to SPI protocol for the pixel strings and ArtNet as the input protocol for the drivers. This approach is not only highly cost-effective, but key in defining the method of control.
The illumination Physics Data Pixel 6 was ideal from both a size and light output perspective. Additionally, the metal housing can better withstand Las Vegas’ high summer temperatures and provides more sturdy and robust mounting options.
The luminaires and drivers were only part of the puzzle; a fully integrated solution was still required. The data pixels needed to be pre-installed in panels ,then delivered to the curtain wall factory and integrated into the curtain wall modules that form the building envelope of the hotel tower. The curtain wall panels would then be tested and shipped to the construction site.
Fortunately, as a specialist in integrated façade lighting, illumination Physics has collaborated with most of the largest façade engineering companies that manufacture curtain wall building envelopes. Working with Shop 12, the illumination Physics team developed four sizes of metal panels for securely mounting the data pixels. The panels had laser-cut perforations to expose LEDs on the front. On the back, CNC-machined mounting studs were attached to match the mounting lugs of a revised illumination Physics Data Pixel 6 LED module. A selection of media panels was tested in a full-scale, two-story façade mock-up in Las Vegas.
The 853 media panels are all the same height (1 foot), but produced in four widths:
13.5 inches with 30 LED nodes – 1 string
27.5 inches with 65 LED nodes – 2 strings
41.5 inches with 100 LED nodes – 2 strings
56.25 inches with 150 LED nodes – 3 strings
In total, 2,075 strings were made for the façade, plus spares.
Signage contractor YESCO used an additional 11,000 data pixels for Circa’s signage. The media panels were mounted in a back pan, which was then glazed into each curtain wall panel. If required, a media panel can be removed from the front since the flush retaining screws are on the outside, painted to match the white finish of the panels and the rest of the curtain wall. Hong Kong-based façade consultants Hiersemenzel & Associates (HS&A) then certified the media panel to a curtain wall mechanical fixing design.
The next challenge was to create a cabling system that would connect the IP data pixel strings on the outside of the waterproof barrier with the inside face of each curtain wall panel. A starter cable with IP67 connectors was installed in a designated position in the back pan, passing through cable glands. All cabling was numbered on the inside and outside so the mapping could be easily followed when it came time to connect the drivers.
illumination Physics produces ArtNet to SPI drivers in several configurations with different outputs. For Circa, it made mathematical sense to use a combination of the IP Driver 8 output model (267 pcs) and the IP Driver 1 output model (118 pcs). The drivers were installed in the hotel bedrooms, thus specially designed to run silent cooling.
The media panels were shipped out of Hong Kong to the curtain wall factory, where they were met by a remote illumination Physics team who supervised and assisted with the integration of the panels and cables into the curtain wall panels — a process that took seven months. The panelized IP data pixels were tested prior to shipping, then again upon arrival, once more prior to installation, and then after installation into the curtain wall panels.
Two containers of complete curtain wall panels were shipped to Las Vegas per week. Despite the challenges of 2020, Tre’ Builders was able to complete the façade and oversee the fit-out so the hotel could open on time. National Technology Associates and its Las Vegas office performed the control system integration for both the media wall and signage.
A Dazzling Result
Circa has set a new standard in many ways, and the lighting design plays a significant part. The illumination Physics team noted, “We are proud to have contributed to Shop 12 and Steelman Partners’ inspired façade lighting design. Our admiration goes out to Tre’ Builders for their professionalism and determination to get the job done on time despite the most difficult circumstances. Our Technical Director, Peter Kemp, and Design Director, Simon McCartney, are looking forward to booking a visit – circa 2021.”