Yonkers, New York


“Good taste” and “casino design” may seem to be an unlikely pairing. But when Studio V Architecture partnered with lighting designer Suzan Tillotson to create a new face for the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway in New York, they found an elegant resolution of the division in a luminous curved facade and porte-cochère.

“We thought a lot about it conceptually,” Tillotson says. “How you feel when you leave a casino and it's 3 in the morning and the color you want to experience.”

Once known for its storied racetrack, where prominent thoroughbreds such as Seabiscuit once galloped, the 115-year-old facility fell into decline; by 2000, The New York Times stated grimly that “Yonkers Raceway is dying.” With a multi-million-dollar renovation designed by EwingCole and the introduction of slot machines in 2006, however, owner Timothy J. Rooney—whose family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers—transformed the flagging raceway into a top-performing casino.

Wishing to literally build on this success, Rooney asked the New York'based Studio V to create a 63,000-square-foot addition for the existing casino. “He wanted to do something completely contemporary and reinvent the place,” says the firm's principal, Jay Valgora. “We really looked at the porte-cochère as a sculptural object that would be a reinterpre-tation of the racetrack.” Valgora opened the steel-frame building by adding a glass facade. He worked closely with engineer Nicholas Goldsmith, of FTL Design Engineering Studio, to devise a beautiful yet cost-effective porte-cochère. Fascinated with gridshells—latticed, double-curved structures—the architect and engineer arrived at the sweeping curves of the canopy after extensive tests and modeling. Supported by structural steel, the grid is composed of pressurized Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) pillows—a kind of high-tech plastic.

Tillotson then collaborated with the architects to create a gradated frit for both the glass facade and the surface of the porte-cochère, to dispel and soften the individual lights and to conceal the bustling casino activities beyond. While metal halide lamps mounted on gently curved poles at the top of the facade illuminate the glazing with simple on/off programming, lighting the canopy proved more challenging. “We wanted a smooth sequence of color across the armature,” says Tillotson. “Jay wanted to emphasize the form.”

The lighting design team worked directly with a manufacturer to design a custom RGB LED system for the top of the porte-cochère that evokes a sunset and sweeps gradually across its 200-foot span. Dimmable high-color-rendering white LEDs on the underside of the canopy's frame illuminate vehicles beneath and play off of the glittery pavement embedded with glass chips.

In the evening, the luminous colors spread slowly over the shell of the canopy, creating a gracious beacon. “Most casinos are about theming and creating false internal environments—creating a fake New York, a fake Paris, or a fake Venice,” says Valgora. “Our project has none of that—it was about creating a beautiful sculptural object in front that is completely contemporary, but relates to the history of the place.”


Formal name of building:
Empire City Casino Expansion at Yonkers Raceway

810 Yonkers Avenue Yonkers, NY 10704

Completion Date:
February, 2013

Gross square footage:
63,000 SF

Total project cost:
$36 Million

Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway

Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway

Architect's firm name, address, phone, and fax number:
STUDIO V Architecture 44 E. 32nd Street, Third Floor New York, NY 10016 T: 212.779.2288 F: 212.689.1325

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Jay Valgora, AIA, AICP, LEED AP
Project Manager: Gianfranco Cerini
Designer: Brandt Graves
Designer: Maria Del Mar Granados
Project Architect: Roberto Mancinelli
Designer: George Batzios
Specifications/Materials: Florence Orlando

Engineers (structural, civil, mechanical, etc.):
Structural Engineer
DeSimone Consulting Engineers
18 West 18th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10011

Specialty Structural Engineer:
FTL Design Engineering Studio
44 East 32nd Street, Third Floor
New York, NY 10016

MEP Engineer:
Edwards & Zuck P.C.
315 Park Avenue South, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10010

Civil Engineer:
Dolph Rotfeld Engineering
200 White Plains Road, Suite 315
Tarrytown NY 10591

Ken Smith Workshop
450 West 31st Street 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Tillotson Design Associates
40 Worth Street, Suite 1680
New York, NY 10013

Shen Milson Wilke, LLC
417 Fifth Avenue, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10016

Façade Consultant
Vidaris (Formerly Israel Berger)
232 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Code Consultant
Milrose Consultants
66 West Barclay Street
Hickville, NY 11801

Traffic Consultant
Adler Consulting
235 Main Street, Suite 401
White Plains, NY 10601

Parking Consultant:
Walker Parking Consultants
50 West 23rd Street, Suite 704
New York, NY 10010

General contractor:
LP Ciminelli
2421 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14214

Paul Warchol Photography


February 2013

63,000 square feet

Project cost:

$36 million

Completion date:



Exterior cladding
Metal Panels: MetalTech-USA (zinc shingles)
Metal/glass curtain wall: Sentech Architectural Systems & FH Graham LLC
Rainscreen: Zinc shingles
EIFS: STO Therm Essence NExT System
Curtain wall: Sentech Architectural Systems & FH Graham LLC

Porte-Cochere canopy: Saint-Gobain (ETFE-foil) / Birdair (fabrication, and installation)

Glass: Sentech Architectural Systems, FH Graham LLC
Skylights: Domel

Metal doors: Ceco Dooor Assa Abloy

Locksets: Sargent
Closers: Norton

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Dune
Suspension grid: Armstrong
Paints and stains: Sherwin Williams
Wall coverings: Chilewich
Paneling: Themeing Solutions (Nail wall, Polycarbonate wall, ceiling clouds)
Solid surfacing: Entrance Lobby (quartzite, bluestone)
Floor and wall tile: Restrooms
Carpet: Milliken
Raised flooring: Tate ConCore CC 2000

Downlights: Luciter, Bruck, Philips, Edison Price, Portfolio, Neoray
Exterior: HK Lighting Group
Dimming System or other lighting controls: ETC Unison

Elevators/Escalators: Otis

(include water fountains and water-saving fixtures as applicable) Halsey Taylor, Kohler