Pieces of the Puzzle: Architectural Choices – Water Features

Editor’s Note: CEM continues its new series of articles in place of our past Architecture, Construction & Design Update. These articles profile one particular feature that goes into the building of a new casino, hotel or resort. Following the first two features on entry doors and casino bathrooms, we now look at water features, from flowing water walls to fountains and anything else that involves the beauty of water in a casino. We will profile two great vendors that provide these features, as well as notable architects’ opinions about them. This is the third and last installment of this series for 2010. It has been a series I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing, so you can count on seeing more next year. If you have an architectural feature you’d like to recommend, I welcome suggestions. But for now, read on to get the down low on H2O.

Beautiful, awe-inspiring, soothing, interactive, calming, exciting. These all are words used to describe water and its potential to be used as a feature display at a property. Water features, even when not grandiose, are hard to ignore. They don’t blend in like carpeting, doors or ceiling tiles often do.

This is one reason, among many, why if you are looking to install a water feature at your property, it must be done right. It’s one of those features that sticks in the mind of guests and could be talked about even long after a visit (fountains at The Bellagio, anyone?).

“In many Asian cultures, a water feature placed in an entry provides a mental ‘cleansing’ that allows the guest to discard the hustle and bustle of one world and begin a new receptive and energized mindset for what the space beyond can provide,” said Ken Kulas, principal at Cleo Design. “There is also a comfort in developing a recognizable sense of place when a water feature is introduced into a completely fabricated environment.”

As with most considerations at casinos, it all comes down to guest experience. “Water brings animation, a sense of refreshment, as well as a soothing background audible experience,” Kulas said. “Not only can it enhance the space, but it can also mask many undesirable elements such as road noise.”

Thomas Hoskens, AIA, LEED AP and principal at Cuningham Group Architecture, commented that water has the ability to capture the attention of the guest and can serve many purposes such as a wayfinding element, a reason to linger or providing entertainment.

But that doesn’t mean you can throw one wherever there might be space for it. Cuningham Group feels that a project’s overall design direction and concept drives the decision to place a water feature in a particular location. The point of arrival is one of many ideal spots, whether inside or out. Placing here can set the mood, tell a story or create a sense of anticipation upon guest arrival.

Hoskens explained that this was the idea behind the water feature at the Red Hawk Casino in Placeville, Calif. Here, it is used to represent the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers where the Shingle Springs Tribe of Miwok Indians lived for many years.

And for Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG), the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Ala., incorporates main cultural design schemes throughout, including wind, water, fire and land. HBG worked with TBG Landscape Design and contractors for the addition of a 3-acre man-made lake and pool exterior environment. “The motifs are represented figuratively throughout the resort’s main textural building materials, with the water element represented both figuratively and literally at the resort’s exterior,” explained Shawn Hobbs, AIA, designer at Hnedak Bobo Group.

When it comes down to choosing the type of feature best for you, the options are limitless, from water walls to water fountains or abstract sculptures. But always keep in mind practicality and vision. “Along with budget, location and design direction help determine a water feature,” Kulas advised. “The water wall, for instance, has been implemented often when used in a contemporary design or when minimal floor space is available.”

Hobbs added that a property should first consider what the water feature will be used for, and that oftentimes will determine where it goes. “For example, a pool needs to be on the southern side of a building to get good sun exposure,” he said. “The guest experience also needs to be considered. Is the water feature interactive or just sculptural? Also, guest safety is paramount. Water features should be designed to prevent slipping or falling into or around the feature, or drowning, in the case of a pool/lake environment. Finally, water features present unique maintenance challenges that require qualified and trained staff to understand and properly sustain the feature.”

Hoskens talked about water walls versus fountains, noting the striking differences. A fountain can be viewed as an object, and its design enables a guest to experience the water from a variety of exposures and viewpoints. A water wall is typically more extravagant and can be completely for entertaining and engaging a guest. “The driving decision between installing a water wall or a fountain lies with the design concept and the type of guest experience you want to create,” he said.

Cuningham designed a dramatic water feature for the second phase of the Harrah’s Cherokee project and its opening next year. “Water will be dropping from 70 feet above into pools below, and the ‘water screen’ will be choreographed with lighting and projections designed as an entertainment component within itself,” Hoskens explained.

He added that the well-executed water project should be designed for ease of operation, which is why it is important to work with contractors and vendors who understand the complexities in design and operation of a water feature.

Kulas also had some input. During the design process, several consultants are required to give input on structural, lighting and mechanical considerations. Part of the process includes presentations and actual mock-ups to help determine the success of the design. “Depending on the difficulty of the concept, the development process can take months of evaluation,” he said. “An experienced team of consultants, including a water feature specialist, can remove some of the guesswork and offer confidence to owners and operators.”

“The beauty of working in our industry is that with every project, we are breaking new design ground with the integration of technology and design aesthetic,” Hoskens noted.

Kulas agreed, adding: “Today’s designers are familiar with sources and suppliers providing the most unusual products and materials. We are intrigued with the various uses of these materials and are constantly trying to surprise the public with unexpected applications and how they may react with water. Stone, glass, light projection systems and even fire are all available to keep our creative minds sharp. … The use of water as an interior feature can be a wonderful addition to a designer’s palate of options.”

In choosing the vendor for your property’s water feature, experience and reputation are paramount. That’s why CEM gathered two of the best right here. Read on to find out what Cost of Wisconsin and KHS&S can do for you.

COST of Wisconsin Inc.

COST of Wisconsin gets the ‘biz—our biz, the unique industry that is gaming. And, they understand what it takes to get the job done right. COST has been involved in specialty construction services since 1957. Though they do work in many industries, the casino industry has been a major market sector for the company since 1993. Since that time, COST has constructed over 50 casino projects across the U.S.

“Water adds multiple dimensions to any casino or resort,” said Christopher Foster, VP of sales and marketing for COST. “The sounds and sights of any style water feature are pleasing to the mind and body. A nicely developed water feature creates a natural focal point or gathering place for casino and resort patrons.”

COST offers a complete line of naturalistic and architectural water features. These range from water walls, waterfalls, fountains and ponds. “Our unique water features become a centerpiece of a casino property,” Foster commented. “Oftentimes it is an integral part of the casino’s branding.”

Rick Haas, VP of operations at COST, said “Our work is a highly complex mix of materials and trades people.” He explained that they actively use stone, FRP, GFRC, urethanes, acrylic, decorative glass and metal work in their features. “Blending these elements, sometimes all together, delivers a finished product that becomes a conversation piece, one that is discussed long after patrons leave the casino,” he said. “When casino and resort developers are seeking something truly different, they hire COST.”

Ease of installing of course comes down to the complexity of the feature. A small water wall will be much easier than a highly programmed system with water and light displays. Haas cautioned that a water feature will require a pump room, electrical and water supply as well as drain lines. “If all of these factors are considered during the design, the implementation of any water feature is quite simple,” he said.

The things he advises keeping in mind during a water feature install are aesthetics, efficiency and maintenance. “The presentation of water and the effect of water flow and lighting all play key roles in differentiating a good water feature from a great one,” Haas said. “We look at all aspects of water flow and lighting to determine an optimal water/light display. … As projects continue to go green, efficiencies in energy consumption will be on the forefront of water feature design. As far as maintenance, all water features require some maintenance, but following our maintenance and operations manual will keep your system within good operating specs and minimize short- and long-term maintenance.”

Foster commented that he’s seen a trend toward introducing unique lighting schemes and flow rates to create new and more visually appealing water features. COST responded by incorporating more LED lighting systems, variable speed pumps and unique fountains in its installations. He added that programmable systems allow the casino to change and rotate lighting and water feature displays on a regular, seasonal or holiday basis.

The Mohegan Sun Casino has an amazing water element designed by Fluidity, Foster shared. “The feature integrates variable speed pumps, programmable lighting and A/V that all work collaboratively to create a remarkable water show.”

“What is most significant is the remarkable scale and activity level of this powerful installation, given its quite intimate, albeit dramatic, interior space,” said James Garland, president of Fluidity.

Additionally, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, a project designed by Walsh Bishop, is symbolic of the old battleship cannons that were once built by Bethlehem Steel, the site of the casino. The water feature uses LED lighting, fog effects and rippling water to simulate the large castings being quenched, Foster said.

COST’s experience, knowledge and outlook make them a great team to work with on your next water project. “While no two projects are alike, the vast understanding of water, lighting, art and basic water feature functionality is where our production and construction personnel excel,” Foster added. “We closely review and provide input on all aspects of proper water feature maintenance. This will save dollars throughout the design and construction phases and will deliver a more efficient and effective water feature.”

COST of Wisconsin At a Glance
Company headquarters: Jackson, Wis., with branches in Orlando, Seattle and Dubai, UAE
Number of employees: 100
Years in business: 53
Specialty: Specialty and themed construction
For sales info: Call 800-221-7625
Website: www.costofwisconsin.com

KHS&S Contractors

KHS&S Contractors is a company we introduced to you in the last installment of this series on casino bathrooms. Though their work to install factory-made bathroom units is impressive, the company has several other divisions, and one of those is the Rockwork and Water Feature Technologies Group. This is a full-service division of KHS&S, operating for more than 10 years, and its experts each have more than 25 years of experience.

This group is the only team in the country backed by the services, expertise and resources of an international interior/exterior specialty contractor. By providing all aspects of specialty construction within one company, KHS&S can offer customers maximum coordination and flexibility while ensuring the highest level of design consistency throughout a project, explained Tony Caruso, director of rockwork and water feature technologies for KHS&S.

“Water features bring multiple benefits to a casino resort, ranging from becoming a signature attraction, such as Bellagio’s water show, to simply enhancing a project’s overall guest appeal by providing beautiful aesthetics,” Caruso commented. “When properly conceived and placed, water features can help increase gaming and retail sales by creating specific environments for entertainment, relaxing, mingling, eating and drinking—all of which help extend a visitor’s stay at a project.”

This is all the more reason to make sure you have the right team behind you. And the group at KHS&S can be that team. They’ve already been involved with impressive projects, such as the dramatic waterfalls and reflecting pools at The Palazzo; the exterior water and fire water features at Red Rock Casino Resort; the expansive feature fountain at West Gate City Center in Glendale, Ariz., where the centerpiece is a 60,000-gallon fountain modeled after the landmark Bellagio water feature; and the signature thunderstorm and the new Lost City feature at the Miracle Mile Shops in Las Vegas.

KHS&S offers complete design-build services, allowing the group to offer turnkey services to owners. And they can work with you on every level. “We prefer to work with clients early in the design phase, which allows us to make the most of the budget, the available space and the design intent of the feature,” Caruso said. “We can also provide elaborate samples, so the client knows exactly what they are getting.”

“Water features are running a course similar to computers and smart phones,” Caruso noted. “Because of advancements in technology, we are able to do a lot more than we could 10 or even five years ago.” He said that technological advancements have allowed them to be more creative in fountain animation, choreography, and fabrication and construction.

KHS&S uses Building Information Modeling, or BIM, to help the owner better visualize what a water feature will look like in a virtual environment before construction begins. This saves time and money, and significantly increases customer satisfaction. And because design is done digitally, it also helps ensure exact measurements, fit and integration into the overall project plan.

Another unique viewpoint this company can bring is its dual experience and knowledge in both water features and rockwork, allowing the two features to go hand-in-hand or be separate. This can be a unique and exciting combination. The options can be near endless, from caves and caverns to streams and ponds, even geysers. “Water feature designs are customized to the project and include high-tech minimalistic designs, natural settings, whimsical fantasy environments or historical reproductions,” Caruso added. “Services include nearly every aspect of the project, including special effects such as lighting, audio systems, fog and pyrotechnics; mechanical, piping, pumping and filtration systems design; and choreography and synchronization.”

Caruso explained that there are many considerations to keep in mind when thinking about water features. The big four he cited are scale and size, design, budget and timing. The only way to mitigate unforeseen problems is to again, have the right team. For instance, Caruso shared that KHS&S has developed a proprietary, lean construction approach to rockwork that uses BIM and other 3-D modeling technology to integrate the entire rockwork process. They are currently using this technology to produce a rockwork volcano for a major themed resort in Hawaii.
Can you see the potential for a “wowing” water feature?! And that is just what you’ll get by putting your trust in KHS&S.

KHS&S At a Glance
Company headquarters: Anaheim, Calif
Number of employees: 1,500
Years in business: 25
Specialty: Water Feature & Rockwork Technologies, Interiors, Exteriors, Themed Construction, Specialty Construction, Prefabricated Building Solutions
For sales info: Contact Tony Caruso at tony.caruso@khsswest.com
Website: www.khss.com

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