The Cultural Currents of River Spirit Casino

The history of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma is seeped with cultural traditions that encompass the riverside geography where early ancestors dwelled. In early times, tribal members constructed magnificent earthen pyramids along the southeast river regions of the United States and later built expansive towns within these same broad river valleys. Now with headquarters in Okmulgee, Okla., the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma continues in its ancestors footsteps through the brilliant construction of the $195 million River Spirit Casino.

Located in Tulsa, Okla., near the Arkansas River front, River Spirit Casino embodies the cultural traditions of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma through the stunning interior design and architecture that the Cuningham Group helped bring to the property. One of the largest gaming floors in the state, River Spirit Casino utilizes 90,000 square feet of space for its gaming floor, a large increase since its humble beginnings in 1984 as a local bingo hall. With 2,800 slot machines, 24 table games, 15 poker tables, a high stakes VIP gaming area, a retail shop, two restaurants, two lounges, a sports bar and the largest buffet in Oklahoma, the new 300,000-square-foot gaming facility has been entertaining guests since its March 31 opening.

Inspired by the philosophy “Every Building Tells a Story™,” Thomas Hoskens, AIA, LEED®A.P. and principal of Cuningham Group Architecture P.A., said through cultural consultations with tribal elders and members, the story of the Muscogee came to life and helped shape the architecture and design of the property by the use of historic metaphors interpreted in a modern vernacular. “The property was not designed with a theme but instead highlights the cultural influences of the Muscogee,” Hoskens noted.

Reflecting various aspects of the river and river life were strong influences and became cultural design currents throughout the property. “The ceiling and floor patterns reinforce the river and journey circulation through the building—walls mimic the river’s edge with strata and agriculture,” Hoskens described. “Plants and grasses along with the river bank and the reflection of the sunlight off of the water were the metaphors used within the building.”

Working with a design cue of recreating the villages and agriculture along the river beneath the misty sky, Hoskens and his team developed a stunning and natural design for the main gaming floor.  “The river is articulated in a ceiling element that creates a river journey to landmarks on the gaming floor,” he said. “Ceiling, clouds, and undulating layers represent the dynamic and color changing reflection of sunset and twilight against the water. Whimsical column enclosures create points of interest along the edge of the gaming area and emulate trees at the river’s edge.

“The perimeter of the casino’s interior contrasts the flowing water elements through horizontal and vertical field crop elements that mimic the landscape forms and colors of the tribe’s agricultural process during each season. There are also floor and ceiling mirrors that emulate the reflection of sunlight over water and sunlight through trees.”

The property’s exterior also follows the cultural currents of the Muscogee. “The color for the exterior of the building was chosen to be reminiscent of the Arkansas River red clay banks and bluffs,” said Hoskens, “and the grand entry celebrates the circle of life and the sky as it appears to flow over the trees as the river flows through the rocks and grasses and joins the river valley.”

Cloudlike forms flow from River Spirit’s entrance as if being guided by the river’s breeze into the building. The intricate patterning used in Muscogee beaded belts provided an inspiration for the color pattern used on the riverside west of the building. Orienting the entry facing east expresses cultural welcoming.

And although the site’s narrow orientation was a challenge for the design team, it turned into an extension of the building’s design. “The narrow site necessitated a narrow building, but we overcame that by emulating the river experience as though the river itself was flowing through the building,” said Hoskens. This also allowed the property to maximize the surrounding open space by minimizing the building’s footprint.

Like all its designs, Cuningham Group considered the environment before specifying products and materials, making smart decisions from the onset regarding water, site and materials. “We helped to reinforce a sustainable approach to the design by using recycled content materials or rapidly renewable materials wherever possible and used local materials as they were available,” Hoskens said. “We also used native and drought resistant plants to reduced irrigation needs and used site erosion control to reduce long term erosion and stabilize slopes.”

The team was also able to exceed requirements for storm water discharge and treatment through hydraulic dissipation techniques that reduce water velocity and downstream erosion. Rock filter beds and permeable pavers also ensure the property has an alternative storm water treatment method.

Through the reflection of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s culture and legacy within the property’s architecture and design, River Spirit Casino is poised to proudly welcome guests to enjoy its new facility while learning more about its traditions and heritage.

Key Players
Owner: Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma
Architecture and Interior Design: Cuningham Group Architecture P.A.
Owner’s Representative: Lawson and Associates
General Contractor: Flintco Inc.
Environmental & Civil Engineer: Wallace Engineering
Soils Engineer: GeoSystems / KLEINFELDER
Civil Engineer: Red Plains Professional Inc.
Structural Engineer: Reigstad & Associates Inc.
M/E/P Engineer: X-nth Inc.
Landscape Design: Melchert Walkky Inc.
Lighting Design: Schuler Shook Inc.
Signage Consultant: Eslick Design Associates Inc.
Consulting (Cultural) Architect: Baker Barrios Architects

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