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A Design Hits The Jackpot

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Photos by Peoples Places and Things Photographics

It has slot machines, table games, and live entertain- ment, but Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Illinois, is not your average gambling hall. As Klai Juba Architects’ senior associate Steve Peck tells us, design-wise, there are several reasons the project stands out. 

The World’s First LEED Gold Casino 

While LEED certification wasn’t originally a top priority for the casino’s owners and architects, as the project moved forward, it became clear that sustainable design was a logical fit. The 43,000-square-foot facility is non-smoking, earning its designers and builders access to several HVAC, health, and environmental credits. Building off that head start, Peck and his team added other eco-friendly choices such as natural landscaping with smart irrigation and water systems, motion sensor lighting that automatically shuts off when not in use, efficient HVAC and other mechani- cal systems, regional materials, bike racks, car charging stations, and more.

Collectively, the features added up to an unexpected opportunity when it came to LEED certification—the first casino in the world to achieve LEED Gold. “We saw that with just a couple more points we could go for gold,” Peck says. “And that’s what we did.” 

A Clever Legal Life Preserver

According to Illinois gaming law, casinos can only operate on or over water. Historically, gaming was legal on riverboats as they floated up and down stream, but over the years, immobile riverboat casinos have gotten the OK as long as they’ve been docked on water. For Rivers, Klai Juba got creative. Instead of setting the casino afloat, the architects created a shallow pool buried beneath parts of the building.

“If you’re on a gaming floor, about two feet below you is six inches of water and that met the requirements of Illinois gaming law,” Peck says. The tactic, which had been used in at least one other casino, is supported by a system of pumps and irrigation channels that are only visible for gaming board officials to see in two sections of the back of the house.

“It was a complicated little detail because we had to work around structure, and plumbing, and electrical, and things like that,” Peck says. 

Upscale Exteriors

Away from the glittering casinos of their Las Vegas homebase, the Klai Juba architects were careful to create a space that fit in with its surroundings.

“We know that the greater Chicagoland area is so rich in architecture and history, and because a casino can sometimes be polarizing, we were not going to be overly flamboyant, with neon and flashing signs and all things ‘Las Vegas,’” Peck says. “We were respectful and created what we consider a solid, approachable design.”

Accordingly, the owner and design team looked to finishes not commonly seen in casino design. Instead of industry-standard EIFS exteriors, Peck and his team used custom precast concrete, natural stone, and metal paneling, among other high quality finishes. 

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