The 515-foot-tall atrium of the Atlanta Marriot Marquis is a dramatic space in a city known for its dramatic interiors. After all, the building's original architect, the locally based John Portman and Associates, built its reputation on these architectural tours de force. But when Marriot looked to enliven the original mid-1980s space with a bright new bar, it chose another Atlanta firm— Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates (TVS)—for the work. Their new intervention, completed last year, is dubbed Pulse, and its sail-like form and dramatic lighting bring its name to life in the heart of the old atrium.
Sailing doesn't come quickly to mind when you think of Atlanta. The city is more than 1,000 feet above sea level, and only one-half of 1 percent of the city's area is water. In fact, during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, the sailing events were held in Savannah, Ga.—some 250 miles down the road. Despite Pulse's recognizably iconic form, sailing wasn't what TVS' designers had in mind. “It had nothing to do with sailing,” says TVS associate principal Chris Curley, who was project manager for the firm's 350,000-square-foot renovations and additions to the hotel facilities. “It was derived from the shape of the atrium, fitting and nuzzling into the corner and molding it to that shape.”
Like Portman's undulated atrium, few of Pulse's lines are straight. But the bar's structure is actually pretty straightforward. Four arced columns at each corner are the only structural elements that touch the atrium's floor. A compression ring 10 feet above the floor ties the forces together. A series of horizontal pipes of decreasing diameter provide lateral stability and make the scale of the 50-foot-tall structure more manageable. Each structural member is a simple steel pipe section painted in a metallic finish to mimic stainless steel. The horizontal pipes support a series of continuous channels behind. Resin panels, 1/8 inch thick, are simply clipped into these channels. The material—3form's Solo Sky—was chosen for its combination of light weight, translucency, and formability. Each panel is different in size, and the curvature changes with each step upwards, the topmost panels requiring the tightest radius. Because of the resin panels' thinness, they could be bent on site by the contractor to fit into the metal frame.
The light show is based on two separate lighting effects in which color changes are digitally coordinated. Close to the ground, both the underside of the bar counter and the stepped bottle stand behind the bartenders are lit with concealed ½-inch-diameter fiber optic cabling. The stepped platform is a 3form resin, while the under-counter surface—where patrons can actually touch the material—is a marble panel system set with stainless steel reveals. These areas are illuminated by a FiberSource optic light with a variety of color options manufactured by Martin Architectural Lighting.
The larger effect, that of the 50-foot-tall sail, is backlit by another set of Martin fixtures—a more conventional array of 18 150-watt metal-halide fixtures. Each is equipped with an internal CMY mixer hooked into a DMX system for programming. The throw of light is controlled by diffuser, fresnel, and beam shaper lenses. These are mounted on the structure's compression beam 10 feet above the floor. A clear glass canopy at the same height helps domesticate the scale of the space for the patrons sitting below on their stools. The actual aiming of the fixtures took some three hours, a coordinated effort by the architects, lighting designers, and electricians. “We focused the beams wider or narrower,” says Curley, “pointing them to get the best wash that we could.”
It's the ability to change the lighting that's most important for the bar's role within the atrium. “It is the heart, pun intended, of the renovation,” says Curley. While TVS and its lighting consultants provided the functionality, the hotel's director of marketing choreographed the dramatics. Tied to the time and mood of the day, Pulse is lit daily starting at 6 in the morning and glows until 2 the following morning. For the first 12 hours of the cycle—predominantly daytime, regardless of season—the color changes at a leisurely two-hour interval. It's subtle enough not to be overly noticeable at that pace. But at 6 in the evening—the start of the “social hours”—the dance gets more aggressive. The overall music brightens as well, and the color change quickens to every 15–20 minutes. “It's still gradual,” says Curley, “but you cycle through much faster.” The sequence goes from yellows to oranges to reds to greens, purples, then blues. Curley notes that Pulse provides some basic lessons in color theory. Greens and blues saturate well; reds and yellows don't. “You really see that on Pulse,” he says. “The reds and yellows are not nearly as brilliant, but the greens and the blues are spectacular.”
Despite Chris Curley's original idea for the form's source and Atlanta's lack of an inland sea, Pulse is now universally referred to as “the sail.” There's no better way to traverse the roiling seas of John Portman's iconic atrium than under the ever-changing lights of TVS' Pulse with a cocktail in hand.
- Sail up-lighting Eighteen Martin Architectural Lighting Alien 02 fixtures mounted to the compression beams, martin-architectural.com
- Under-counter lighting Martin Architectural Lighting FiberSource Q150 fiber optic fixtures with color wheel, martin-architectural.com
- Back bar bottle display lighting Four lines of Martin Architectural Lighting FiberSource Q150 fiber optic lighting with diamond line directional side light fiber and an attached color wheel. The setup is encased in a white three-tiered bottle stand made from 3form's Chroma resin, martin-architectural.com
- Sail screen A projector mounted on a guest room balcony displays satellite television on a 7-by-12-foot screen mounted on the sail.
- Television Two 50-inch plasma television screens at the bar proper, with 4 LCD televisions at the adjacent banquettes