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Designing the Scarlet Pearl: Examining a new casino project that merges form with function

All images courtesy SOSH NY

by Nory Hazaveh, AIA, PP, Nicholas Colello, AIA, and Shawna Thibault
The Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort not only raised the bar for casino design in the Biloxi, Mississippi region, but also successfully addressed rigid Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations while utilizing innovative technology to meet a fast-paced construction schedule. To design and build a resort unprecedented in southern gaming, yet deeply rooted in southern hospitality, the project team spent a vast amount of resources, research, and time on executing a grand vision of intertwining history with modern comfort. (The authors thank Benjamin Herron and Jason Taylor [Roy Anderson Corp. (RAC) quality control director and project executive] for help in preparing this article.)

Designed by SOSH NY, the Scarlet Pearl’s goal and concept was to celebrate the enchanting past, intriguing present, and joyful future of Mississippi. The 46,450-m2 (500,000-sf) $280-million development features a 5260-m2 (56,585-sf) column-free gaming floor, a 70-m (225-ft) tall glass hotel tower, and unique architectural details. The resort has incorporated family-oriented entertainment with gaming, creating a destination complete with a glamorous hotel, restaurants, retail shopping, an outdoor swimming pool, a miniature golf course, and a spa.

The Scarlet Pearl Resort holds the title of the first casino in D’Iberville, Mississippi. The gaming destination is built on land, instead of a barge, as was the prior norm for the surrounding region. For the project to be successful, two components were essential to the design process: understanding the site requirements and the local historical context. After countless hours of studying southern culture and the impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the SOSH NY team envisioned a design that would marry the two elements while enhancing the traditional D’Ibverville landscape.

After the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA regulations were heightened, with strict measurements put in place for the safety of the public. In October 2005, a law was passed by the Mississippi legislature that allowed casino operators to build on land within 245 m (800 ft) of the waterfront. To alleviate flood concerns, the resort was raised 5.5 m (18 ft) above ground level. All its aspects—including utilities, games, restaurants, and guestrooms—are elevated above ground; they are to remain operational during worst-case flood emergencies, providing a safe haven for patrons.

The elevated building design not only served to satisfy safety requirements, but also maximized guests’ overall experience with enhanced views. In this way, the firm FEMA regulations were seen not as a detriment, but rather an opportunity to provide the ultimate luxury experience to the resort’s patrons.

Designed by SOSH NY, the Scarlet Pearl casino (D’Iberville, Mississippi) features a unique column-free gaming floor, eliminating unnecessary transitional spaces while enhancing guests’ overall experiences.

Curtain wall design
The Scarlet Pearl hotel tower comprises 234 deluxe rooms, 56 suites, and 10 penthouse suites. The hotel tower was strategically designed at an obtuse angle, allowing each guestroom waterfront views. A key element of the Scarlet Pearl design was the feeling of openness as illustrated by the full-height curtain wall. The hotel ceiling heights are at least 2.7 m (9 ft) in order to maximize the views and create rooms filled with natural light—this sort of design is not typical for standard hotel rooms because of the increased construction costs.

The curtain wall system is responsible for 100 percent of the vertical exterior envelope of the 18-level hotel tower, and is adorned with a custom frit pattern reminiscent of the beaches and waves gracing the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The frit pattern was designed with the focal point of human scale; it was strategically placed for the guest’s optimized viewing while still allowing for privacy. A full-scale mockup was constructed to verify the desired design of the curve of the frit pattern in relation to the guests within the room and views outside. Full-height blackout shades were also specified to allow guests a peaceful rest.

The opacity of the curtain wall transitions from clear glass at eye level (located at the center of the curtain wall panel) to the frit pattern as it changes in density when it nears the opaque spandrel glass at the floor and ceiling slab. SOSH NY devised a panel pattern that flipped and rotated the designed wave to minimize the quantity of custom panels needed to create the overall wave pattern.

Edwards and Company served as consultants for not only the building envelope as a whole, but also the specific glazing elements. The 2400-panel, 9300-m2 (100,000-sf) curtain wall was designed and specified as a unitized system. To meet mandated hurricane impact requirements for the region, portions of the curtain wall comprise small- and large-missile impact-rated glass to protect against objects or equipment that may be picked up and thrown in a hurricane situation.

Due to the coast’s hot and humid summer temperatures, glass featuring a low-emissivity (low-e) coating was specified, along with a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of 0.32 and a U-value of 0.273 to drastically cut down on heat gain in the guestrooms, due to the full-height curtain wall.

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