Casino tells a story of heritage & history

Cuningham, a global architectural design firm, has completed the Emerald Queen Casino and Hotel in Tacoma, WA, on behalf of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. The destination totals 310,000 sq. ft. and includes approximately 100,000 sq. ft. of slots and table games, a 2,000-seat event center, five food and beverage venues, two parking garages and a 12-story, 155-room hotel.

Cuningham led the architecture, interior design and landscape architecture efforts for the brand-new facility, which replaces a previous nearby location that consisted of a converted bingo hall and tents.

“This state-of-the-art, resort-style gaming destination is the culmination of a long-term vision of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians,” said Brett K. Ewing, AIA, principal/executive director, Cuningham’s Play Studio. “The tribe first acquired the Emerald Queen Casino as a paddle-boat casino nearly 25 years ago, eventually expanding to two locations, and now is solidifying its footprint with a ground-up development that brings a fresh, exciting experience with a venue that represents deep ties to the tribe’s culture and the local landscape.”

Ewing explained that the facility is also one of the first tribal casino developments to be built above ground spanning multiple parcels and city streets. This is in line with the trend of tribes pursuing development opportunities in urban settings on unclaimed land trusts, driving higher return on investment.

“Integrating the hotel and casino, especially the expanse of the gaming floor, into Tacoma’s urban infrastructure required a one-of-a-kind, innovative design solution,” continued Ewing. “Due to site constraints, the Emerald Queen Casino’s gaming floor and amenities are strategically placed four levels above the ground floor and structurally supported by two parking garages. This unique layout required that we obtain air rights from the city and NIGC approval for gaming over public streets.”

Not only does this layout reclaim the lost space above a restrictive city grid—it results in a building that is highly visible from the interstate and provides panoramic views of the culturally significant Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound. Large expanses of glass windows enhance these views, provide exceptional daylighting and emphasize an exterior and interior connection, noted Ewing.

The proximity and visibility of these landmarks guided the Cuningham team in bringing the Client’s vision to life and looking at how the natural landscape could enhance the architecture and interior design.

Michele Espeland, CID, principal, executive director, strategy, Cuningham, added, “The goal of the Emerald Queen Casino and Hotel’s design was not only to craft a venue that is both beautiful and functional, but one that takes guests on a storytelling journey with at every turn. The key was ensuring the design team truly understood the rich history and culture of the Puyallup tribe and the story they intended to tell patrons. This was achieved through meetings with tribal historians and very close collaboration with the council, keeping that story a common thread woven through all discussions at every step of the way.”

Espeland explained that the interior design team identified key points of interest in the guest experience that lent themselves to artistic moments. The design was enhanced by custom pieces of artwork by talented tribal members led by Shaun Peterson.

“Guests are presented with both the glamour of a Las Vegas-style resort and the tribe’s rich history concurrently through a layout and design elements that are purposefully intended to surprise, delight, and allow for renewed experiences,” explained Espeland. “From the open arms of welcoming wooden figures, carved by Peterson in the style of the regional tribes of the Pacific Northwest, that greet guests as they arrive, to the organization of the casino floor, to the fluid ribbon geometry and the carefully selected materials—every aspect of the design contributes to an exciting, immersive and vibrant journey.”

Espeland noted that the layout enables an organic path of travel inspiring calmness, exploration and engagement through elements both literal—like the bright, 40-ft. long salmon image—or subtle—like the custom steel room dividers meant to resemble the rippling current of the river.

The design also intentionally emphasizes the juxtaposition of the kinetic energy of the casino and the reprieve of the hotel and restaurant off the gaming floor. The upscale caliber of the hotel rooms are in alignment with the design quality of the casino resort overall.

Additional design elements tying back to the culture of the Puyallup, as well as the history of the regional landscape and the casino itself:

  • The café lanterns feature traditional basket-weave patterns
  • The dynamic atrium light fixture with the visual depiction of the traditional tale of three sisters descending to Earth on the stars
  • The coffee bar’s paddle wheel design, a nod to The Emerald Queen’s origins as a paddle-boat casino
  • Abstract references to the local forests in the high limit’s enclosure and the hotel lobby dappled light tree canopies

Ewing added that practical aspects of the guest experience were also carefully considered in the architecture and design throughout the facility. For example, all parking is directly underneath the casino and elevators take patrons straight to the gaming floor, an important benefit in the rainy and snowy climate. The project is also well-positioned for flexibility and allows for potential expansions down the line.

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