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Hotel Felix, Chicago, USA

Issue 53 Feb/Mar 2010 : Retail : Hotel

Lighting Design: SCHULER SHOOK Architects: GETTYS

When Hotel Felix opened in Chicago in 2009, lighting designers Schuler Shook set out to prove that sustainable design does not need to be boring design. Maureen Mahr, IALD, LC, LEED AP, of Schuler Shook explains the LEED Silver rating scheme

While Chicago is internationally recognised as one of the United States’ leading tourist destinations, what is not as well known is the city’s initiative to be one of the nation’s leading ‘green’ cities. Hotel Felix combines these two elements as Chicago’s first downtown hotel designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The hotel owner, Oxford OBG Hospitality Investment Partners, wanted to create a boutique hotel, offering the expected upscale experience for guests while incorporating environmentally friendly design. The hotel’s very name invokes happiness, and this was the defining goal. We needed to create an atmosphere for happiness. The overall result balances urban chic with natural elements and high-tech amenities with green design. This 225-room boutique hotel is a fine example of how good design practices can merge the goals of sustainability with the business of hospitality.

Hotel Felix is a redevelopment of the historic Hotel Wacker, built in 1926 by Chicago architecture firm Levy and Klein. Redeveloping an existing property of this vintage posed challenges for the design team, but re-using the building lessens the environmental impact.

There are only a few lighting-specific LEED credits that a project can attain, yet electric light is one of the most perceptible forms of energy to a visitor. Hotel guests might not perceive the sustainability of the organic paint compound used in wall treatments, but they certainly will notice excessive electric lighting or worse: intrusive lighting that is designed for energy efficiency without regard for visual interest or comfort. ‘Environment’ is key for hospitality, and with this project, that truth took on additional meaning.

Although the exterior lighting had challenges associated with working on an existing historic façade, the interior lighting was where we had to formulate a solid design strategy and fight the battle for energy efficiency. In hospitality settings, visitors often expect the feel of incandescent and halogen lighting. Hotel owners prefer it for the warm quality of light and the relatively low cost of fixtures. However, in this age of sustainability and energy codes, it is our responsibility to shake people out of their wish to “do things like we have always done them”. Lighting designers need to be more creative. We can give hotel visitors a positive experience, make our clients happy and meet power density restrictions.

Our goals in strategising the lighting design were to create various moods in concert with the architecture and to control energy consumption. We felt we could use energy-efficient sources in non-obtrusive ways to meet our goals and those of the client. The lighting design contributed toward earning LEED certification points by helping to conserve overall energy consumption of the building and providing lighting controls for lighting in multi-occupancy areas such as conference rooms, spa and gym.

Our lighting design strategy uses energy-efficient LED, ceramic metal halide, and fluorescent sources in ways that avoid the potential negative perception that so often comes to mind with ‘energy-efficient’ lighting sources. We show that energy-efficient lighting can be warm, playful, welcoming and chic. It can synthesise with more traditional hospitality lighting approaches. Our design strategy also recognises that all halogen lighting is not bad. We simply need to apply it in a thoughtful manner. By camouflaging energy-efficient sources with more traditional lighting, we are able to enhance a visitor’s stay without drawing their attention to it. They get more lumens with less energy and more lamp life with less maintenance. With less maintenance required, the design is more likely to hold its integrity and less likely to continually have a light that is out in the hallway or guest room – a disappointing truth with a mainly incandescent lighting approach.

As noted, halogen lighting can be the perfect tool when used wisely. Our interior lighting design approach was to specify long life MR16 lamps in fixtures that are highly visible or aimed into public spaces where people will be congregating. Because these fixtures are the most noticeable, we used halogen fixtures for their capacity to be easily dimmed and allow light levels to be adjusted for both daytime and evening settings.
For the exterior we chose to selectively highlight only the most visible parts of the façade: the ground levels visible to pedestrian traffic; and the very top of the building, a crown, most visible from around the city. The design team wanted to be respectful of the existing façade, but mindful that a downtown hotel must generate a certain level of visibility and excitement.

The original Hotel Wacker blade sign for the hotel was replaced with an illuminated Hotel Felix version by Landmark Sign Group. Illuminating the sign allows it to be a 24/7 visible advertisement for the hotel. It gives great prominence and visibility to the hotel from the major traffic arteries of Ohio and Ontario Streets, as well as framing the skyline view for all traffic on one-way LaSalle Street.

To show off the terracotta columns and lintels along the streetscape, small ceramic metal halide up/down lights are mounted at each column along the ground level. Warm white linear wall-grazing LEDs run along the first floor cornice. Locating fixtures at this level allowed us to illuminate the second-story cornice. At the crown of the hotel, discreet ceramic metal halide uplight cylinders were located at each vertical band of terracotta. This strategy was a simple lighting gesture reinforcing the interplay of terracotta and brick. This uppermost tier of the hotel is also the most visible portion of the façade from around the city.

As part of the architectural renovation, large windows were punched through the ground floor. At night, the warm glow of the hotel lobby invites passers by to enter. A new glass and steel framed canopy was created for the main entrance. This element was our chance to make a bold statement and to attract pedestrian attention for the hotel. Backlit signage is located on the sides visible from the sidewalk. Colour-changing linear accent fixtures run along the bottom canopy supports, giving the hotel manager the ability to cycle through several colours or bring up holiday colors, although they generally prefer a subdued gold. Adjustable ceramic metal halide accent lights were tucked within the canopy framework and provide a welcome mat of light at the main entrance.

Entering the lobby, we wanted to welcome and impress guests, making them feel at home and pleased with their choice of this hotel. The most striking element is the sophisticated yet playful glass orb sculpture hanging from the two-story ceiling. We wanted these cascading orbs to glow and for the entire sculpture to be visible through the new large windows to attract pedestrian attention. Because the orb design and locations were not solidified until they were installed, we specified a flexible grid of adjustable downlights that could be aimed to accommodate the organic composition. To balance the quantity of fixtures, we reduced the overall wattage of each downlight to only 35 watts. This works because they are not intended to light the floor below, but only to light the orbs.

A sweeping cove bisects the lobby and defines the change of height from a two-level space to a one-level space as we come further into the hotel. In this cove, we located a segmented warm white LED system. LEDs were chosen for their long-life, low-maintenance properties, and ability to provide smooth, continuous illumination.

LEDs were also embedded as toe-lights in the benches surrounding the calming water feature and at the registration desks. Here, we had an opportunity to integrate the architectural lighting with furniture designed by Gettys, the interior architect.

The fireplace just off the lobby is accented with a silvery textured wall covering and a stacked fresh-cut log element, evoking nature within the urban setting of the hotel. A ceramic metal halide border strip is tucked into a pocket and grazes light down the wall, displaying its texture.
Guest room lighting uses warm fluorescent downlighting in the bathroom; linear fluorescent vanity lights are designed into the mirror. In the room, a compact fluorescent decorative glowing pendant is located on each side of the bed. The only halogen light in the room is over the artwork. These fixtures are located directly above the bed, so we chose halogen lighting because the fixtures have a small aperture and the light is more visually comfortable to sit under while reading in bed. All of the separate lighting elements in the room are on individual switches, giving the guest control over which lighting will be on while the room is occupied and avoiding the ‘all lights on’ effect still found in many hotel guest rooms.

We all know that lighting can make a difference in a visitor’s stay by enhancing the furnishings and architecture of the space, creating a feeling of comfort and enjoyment, and setting moods for the space – bright and airy by day and more sophisticated by night. Energy efficient light sources can play a significant part, even in the demanding realm of hospitality lighting.

Hotel Felix shows that a high-end boutique hotel can use sustainable practices in all areas of their business. Sustainability does not need to mean boring design. Guests at Hotel Felix can feel even happier knowing that they are minimising their carbon footprint while traveling. The owner can feel good about saving energy without compromising on design or style.

Project Details
Hotel Felix, Chicago, USA
Client: Oxford OBG Hospitality Investment Partners
Lighting Design: Schuler Shook
Interior Architect: Gettys
Photography: Exterior -; Interior - Gettys

Lighting Specified
Philips Color Kinetics – Colour changing linear canopy fixtures: iColor Accent Powercore, RGB LED
Cooper / Lumiere - Canopy downlights: Westwood 20W PAR20, 3000K CMH
Cooper / Lumiere – Ground level pilaster up/down lights: Westwood 20W PAR20, 3000K CMH
Cooper / IO –Second story cornice: Line 2.0, 3000K LED
Cooper / Lumiere – Upper pilasters and cornice: Westwood 39W PAR20, 3000K CMH
Philips Color Kinetics – Ceiling coves, toe kick coves: eW Cove Powercore, 3000K LED
Times Square – Fireplace wall graze: Borderstrip, 50W PAR20 halogen, 12” O.C.
Cooper / Portfolio – Downlights and adjustable accents: 35W and 50W MR16 halogen
Cooper / IO – Bar die accent: Line .75, 3000K LED
Owner furnished – Decorative pendants and table lamps: incandescent
Lutron – Dimming Controls
Cooper / Portfolio –downlights and adjustable accents: 35W MR16 halogen
Owner furnished – Sconces and floor lamps: 2700 K Compact fluorescent


Felix Hotel
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