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The Wit, Chicago, USA

Issue 53 Feb / Mar 2010 : Retail : Hotel


Lightswitch Architectural’s lighting scheme for this funky Chicago hotel has benefited from early involvement in the design process

The summer of 2009 saw the opening of Chicago’s newest luxury hotel, theWit, located downtown just north of the famous Chicago Theater. The developer and owner, ECD Company, and the architecture firm, Koo & Associates, envisioned a unique hotel experience - combining the theatre’s inherent sophistication along with ‘wittiness’. The team incorporated whimsical elements everywhere that delight the visitors and creates a special experience. One such touch includes a massive yellow lightning bolt running through the entire West façade of the building. With incredible views of the Chicago River, the skyline, and Millennium Park, the hotel has 298 rooms and suites, gorgeous two story lobby, a full service spa, roof-top bar, meeting, entertaining spaces, at least seven conference rooms, and a state of the art movie theatre.

During the early conceptual stages, the developer and architect included a lighting designer. Lightswitch Architectural joined the team and drew up a lighting plan complimenting the architecture and highlighting the whimsical décor while still incorporating sustainable technologies and consuming much less energy than typical buildings of this scale.
The American developer originally requested an entirely LED illuminated building, but unfortunately the pricing on a LED building proved prohibitively expensive. Lightswitch Architectural ultimately chose a design plan using a mixture of LED technology along with compact fluorescent, metal halide and incandescent luminaires. Solid State Luminaires formed the core of the luminaire package, and the design included them where practically and economically feasible.

In order to create a home-like atmosphere, the lighting designers selected warmer colour temperatures and higher colour rendering indices. Although there are over 120 different luminaire types, only 20 lamp types are used in the entire hotel simplifying long-term maintenance and achieving more cost efficient design. In addition, occupancy sensors throughout the hotel save electricity by turning off unneeded lighting.

Lightswitch Architectural designed a variety of lighting environments reflecting the desired sophistication and enhancing the architecture. In the lobby, the breathtaking custom winged chandeliers highlight the large, expansive entrance and set a dramatic tone. The lighting control system, daylight sensors, and the astronomical time clock adjust the lighting levels (or brightness) from day to night. This allows interior light levels to change relative to the level of daylight, maintaining a view of the interior and luring passers-by inside. It also is a much more energy efficient solution because energy is not wasted when it is not needed. The lobby’s dramatic two story ceiling features the winged luminaires; ceiling coves with LED luminaires supplement the pendants adding a desirable glow while still using very little energy. Coves occur at every floor including the spa and reception desk. The spa remains illuminated even when closed which invites guests to return the next day.

By paying close attention to colour temperature and colour rendering in the guest rooms, Lightswitch designed a comforting residential atmosphere.

Designer Avraham Mor says, “My goal was creating a room where the lighting was good enough that my Bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) could have put on her makeup.”

This proved an extra challenge because the building used primarily sustainable lighting choices such as compact fluorescent luminaires (CFLs) that typically have less accurate colour rendering. Lightswitch worked closely with the interior designer ensuring that the chosen lighting coordinated with the finishes and furniture.

The state of the art movie theatre, aptly named Screen, hosts corporate events and private rentals. The owners requested very specific lighting controlled from a single location. Dimmable and directional LED steplights illuminate the floor. For the rest of the space, the design team chose luminaires that did not add audible noise or hum into the cinema. Fibre optic lighting provided a perfect solution with remotely located illuminators. The client can easily adjust the colour of the light produced by the illuminators depending on the event using touch screen controls.
The conference rooms have DALI controls (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface System) widely used in the European market but still new to America. Dimmable CFL luminaires incorporate on-board dimming eliminating the need for traditional dimming systems. With DALI, each luminaire can dim independently or as part of a group. When Mor presented the system to the Chicago Section meeting of the Illuminating Engineering Society, everyone was impressed.
Lightswitch Architectural supported the owner throughout the design/build process by advising on all technical, practical and budgetary concerns related to the lighting. To streamline efficiency and maintain fiscal control, the lighting equipment is owner supplied reducing VE issues that typically happen. This allowed the team to maintain an environmental focus, control and manage purchasing and delivery, and minimise installation times. These efficiencies saved time and money and contributed to theWit Hotel opening on schedule and within budget – critical factors in today’s economy.

Lightswitch Architectural’s role also extended to acting as the lighting manager for the entire building. This role encompassed the restaurants as well, where the lighting design team, with a thorough understanding of the client’s needs and priorities, provided local support for The Johnson Studio. Contributions to the restaurants and rooftop bar included coordinating luminaire and lamp types, specifying the dimming system, verifying procurement of materials, setting levels on the dimming system and luminaire focusing.

TheWit lighting systems confirmed energy use expectations, using only 1.1 watts per square foot. The first electric bill after occupancy came in two thirds less than typical for a hotel its size. The energy savings are an invisible bonus above and beyond the innovative, creative lighting design.

By providing an energy efficient, budget friendly, easy to maintain and best of all, beautiful lighting plan, Lightswitch Architectural raised the bar for innovation in lighting design. They look forward to raising it a bit higher with each new project. For now, head over to Roof, the wildly popular rooftop bar at theWit and enjoy the breathtaking views under the twinkle of the LED stars.

Project Details
theWit, Chicago, USA
Client: ECD Company
Lighting Design: Lightswitch Architectural
Architecture: theWit - KOO and Associates;
Roof - The Johnson Studio
Photography: Wayne Cable, Self Made Photo

Lighting Specified
Sylvania: All Lamps
Lutron: LCP Controls & Ecosystem Grafik Eye QS systems
Lightolier: CFL Downlights & 2x2 above acrylic in conference rooms
RSA: HID/INC Multiples
Insight Lighting: Wall Washers and LED coves in spa
Juno Lighting: Trac12 LED cove lighting
DaSal Lighting: MR16 Downlights at doorstops and in guestrooms
Winona Lighting: LED Step Lights in Screen
Visual Lighting Technologies: Fibre optic systems in Screen

Key Metrics:
Hotel 1.1 watts per SqFt
Restaurants 1.8 watts per SqFt
Electricity bill $4,000 per month (compared to $10,000 typical)
Luminance Levels: 38fc Front Desk, 20fc Lobby Daytime, 30fc Restrooms, 50fc Conference rooms, 50fc at face in guest bathroom 35fc at counter


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