Dramatic lighting spotlight on MGM National Harbor

Located on the banks of the Potomac just outside of Washington, D.C. in Oxon Hill, Maryland, the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor serves as a premier entertainment destination for the nation’s capital. The luxurious 23-story casino/hotel resort features 308 guest rooms; 135,000 square feet of gaming space; retail shops; a spa; nine restaurants featuring renown local and national chefs; a 3,000-seat theater with seven VIP suites; 27,000 square feet of meeting and event space; and a 4,800-car parking garage.
Especially noteworthy is the resort’s permanent collection of art inspired by the Washington metropolitan area and developed in collaboration with Prince George's County Arts and Humanities Council, Atlantic Arts, and RareCulture. Artists, sculptors, and photographers featured in the collection include Alice Aycock, Charles Hinman, Chul Hyun Ahn, John Safer, Liao Yibai, Margaret Boozer, Martha Jackson Jarvis, Sam Gilliam, and Terry O'Neill. In addition, the west entrance to the facility features an enormous iron archway designed by musician Bob Dylan and consisting of "found objects" such as farming tools, children's toys, wheels and axes.
The building’s vibrant white aluminum and concrete exterior complements the white marble used in many of Washington DC’s iconic buildings, without overwhelming the region’s historic architecture. The Dallas office of HKS was responsible for MGM National Harbor’s architectural design, while SmithGroupJJR’s Washington, D.C. office served as architect of record for the project.
Welcoming Light
Client MGM desired a welcoming, thoughtfully illuminated building and property, including an even wash of light on the hotel tower, which was to be primarily a vision glazing curtain wall system. Architectural lighting designer Illuminating Concepts of Farmington Hills, Mich., assisted HKS in defining and selecting a distinct white, vertical frit pattern for the curtain wall. According to Kelly Stechshulte, Executive Director for Illuminating Concepts, “It was important for façade lighting to be dense enough to create an effectively and evenly-lit tower exterior at night, while allowing a clear view from inside guestroom windows with minimal light spill into the rooms.” In addition, there were limited mounting positions available from below that would allow for floodlighting the facade.
The solution was to create a customized series of exterior-rated linear LED fixtures which were integrated into the triangular sunshade fins that protruded from the façade at each floor slab. Each fixture uplights the frit and shade directly above it, minimizing any shadowing between the shade and the glazing, and on the frit pattern. At the corners of the building, directional kick films were applied to spread light the entire length of the fins.
The unique combination of features incorporated into the project’s custom fixtures led to the development of the AL Graze AC, by Los Angeles-based Acclaim Lighting. Acclaim’s AL Graze AC fixture is effective at illuminating the hotel tower’s facade based on its size (profile); the ability to customize output and distribution; ease of wiring (line voltage); and budget conscious price per linear foot. A high-power, low-profile, outdoor linear LED fixture, AL Graze AC features a robust IP66 housing, on-board AC + DMX driver, and linkable cable system. Operating at 110-277 VAC, AL Graze AC provides 419 lumens per foot, yet consumes only nine watts of energy per foot.
In addition, Acclaim’s exterior-rated Flex II Exterior HO 4000K tape light was selected to accent the casino roof spine and the plinth notch, ensuring uniform color temperatures between the tower and parking garage, and with minimal cost per linear foot. Flex II Exterior HO offers a unique combination of high lumen output of 184 watts per foot, low voltage, and a low profile.
To highlight the site’s focal art feature, Whirlpools by Alice Aycock, and the MGM Lion statue at the casino drop off entrance, Acclaim’s Dyna Drum HO fixture was selected and glare control. Dyna Drum HO is a high output, outdoor rated, quad color LED floodlight, featuring an internal 100-277VAC power supply, onboard DMX+RDM driver. The quad color chip provides superior color mixing and saturation over single source LED fixtures. It comes with a narrow 10º beam (standard) with optional 20º, 40º, 60º, 10º x 60º quick-change spread lenses for wider applications. Each unit produces 7660 lumens, making the Dyno Drum ideal for facade lighting applications and as an area floodlight.
In addition, each Dyno Drum HO fixture carries Acclaim’s Aria wireless DMX technology inside. The Aria transceiver can act as both the sending and receiving point and has 15 channels on the 2.4 GHz band. The internal wireless radio features both automatic networking and signal routing optimization to ensure the best possible reception of DMX data to customize and change lighting schemes.
The result was very well received by MGM, and Illuminating Concepts is pleased with the unique design it created for MGM. “The lighting design adds another level of excitement to National Harbor property, whether you are viewing it from a distance, or approaching it at pedestrian level,” said Stechshulte. “It is truly a project that stands proudly as part of the Washington, D.C skyline.”
Project Participants
Design Architect: HKS – Dallas office
Architect of Record: SmithGroup JJR – Washington, DC office
Curtainwall Manufacturer: Gamma
Exterior Lighting Designer: Illuminating Concepts

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