Craftsmanship Series: Lighting The Smith Center
Architects who enjoy developing all of the details of a project from massing concepts to stair railings, will understand that working on The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, NV was an extraordinary experience. From the Italian marble walls and floors to the custom metal railings and grilles; the custom Venetian plaster mixes to the custom designed carpets and rugs and the custom colored mohair for the auditorium seats, the building is filled with unique finishes and attributes that make it a once-in-a-lifetime project experience.
Among the most stunning of these very special attributes are the decorative light fixtures. David M. Schwarz Architects (DMSAS), in conjunction with Susan Brady Lighting Design (SBLD), developed and designed an exquisite collection of fixtures for this project. These designs were then made real through collaboration with the fixture fabricator Creative Light Source, Inc. (CLS). From design through fabrication, the team worked together to make the fixtures a functional, beautiful reality.
Using buildings like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building as points of departure, the design team developed fixtures that address both human scale, in their attention to detail, and the huge scale of a performance hall. In the Empire State Building, for instance, the design motifs are carefully applied to all elements of the interior. The floor pattern relates to decorative painted friezes which in turn relate to the metal etching on the elevator doors. The designs of the discrete pieces are fully integrated in the overall design of the spaces, and further customized to fit appropriately within individual spaces in the building. All parts contribute to a collection of successful pieces that make the building a singular whole. Similarly, the decorative light fixtures in The Smith Center are a distinct yet integrated component of the whole.
In setting the design theme for the fixtures, the design team identified the Deco motif of the chevron (aka ‘boomerang’), which is a geometric shape used throughout the design of the building (exterior metal relief panels; exterior carved stone; stone floor designs; auditorium plaster relief; etc.). As a malleable, geometric form, the chevron could also be used at a relatively small scale in the fixture design and detailing. Knowing that we had large spaces like the Main Lobby in Reynolds Hall (a space whose ceiling is 40-feet above the main floor) and other more intimate spaces with ceilings about 12-feet to 14-feet above the floor, the team understood that having the ability to change scales and layer details would be a key part to making a family of fixtures work in the varied spaces.
For instance, the central Main Lobby fixture has a diameter of approximately 10-feet at its top and hangs down from the ceiling with decorative chains achieving an overall height of about 13-feet. This Main Lobby fixture has many of the same design elements as the smaller ceiling fixtures in each of the entry lobbies, which are about 6-feet in diameter and hang about 2-feet from the ceiling.
Both are round and generally taper in form, use the nickel chevrons in contrasting satin and polished finishes, and use satin-etched glass (similar to a frosted finish) to softly diffuse the light. The larger fixtures incorporate paired fluted glass panels that further reinforce the geometry of the decorative metal chevrons, and elaborate the larger surfaces found in the bigger fixtures. The larger fixtures also make use of multiple cylindrical tiers as a method to incorporate the same design elements and create a much larger fixture.
DMSAS reviewed the fixture drawings at each stage of design to confirm that the design intent was achieved and remained consistent with the overall design intent for the interiors. Scale, material, and detail were all significant factors.
While another collection of elements was chosen for Boman Pavilion (glass tubes, along with glass and metal balls), the two are tied together through the use of the same nickel metal finishes and satin-etched glass, successfully creating an extended family of decorative fixtures used throughout the two buildings. The compatibility of the two styles is demonstrated by the use of the same wall sconces (in a variety of sizes) in both buildings.
The Smith Center is an incredible building that was designed and built to stand the test of time. The decorative fixtures are like the pieces of jewelry that complete the outfit, or the special wine or sauce that makes a meal particularly wonderful.
The preceding was authored by DMSAS Associate Ramsay Fairburn. Ramsay received her Master of Architecture from the University of Maryland in 1995 and has been with the firm since 1994.