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.
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.”
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63,000 square feet