The modern Cherokee Nation encompasses 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma and includes more than 280,000 official tribal members. Cherokee Nation has undertaken an aggressive tourism program that includes casino destinations designed to reflect various periods in Cherokee cultural history.

Design for the new Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs, Okla., is reminiscent of a time of rising Cherokee nationalism from the 1780s to 1830s, prior to the Cherokee Nation’s removal from the southeast United States to Indian Country in present day Oklahoma.

Design for the project was provided by Thalden•Boyd•Emery Architects, of Tulsa, Okla. The firm specializes in the design and architecture of hotels, casinos and related hospitality projects and has been ranked as the one of the largest hospitality design firms in the country.

The managing principal on the project was Charles “Chief” Boyd, AIA. He has worked with 45 tribes across the country and is one of the most well-known Native American architects.

“The cultural emphasis reflected in the West Siloam Springs area represents the Carolina and Tennessee homelands prior to the Cherokees being relocated to Oklahoma,” Boyd says. “So, we designed the outside of the complex to use stonework and colors that represent the Carolinas. And since Cherokee villages were always located near water, we created actual flowing streams and waterfalls on the outside of the casino. On the interior, we included a lot of symbolism for water with the curvilinear forms to represent the water in a more abstract manner. The theme became more abstract but we maintained the colors you might find in the Smoky Mountains-soft, earthtone colors. All the colors and features and materials depict the 1780s to 1830s period of the Cherokee culture. One of the ways the tribe can express its cultural timeframes is at the various casinos located across Cherokee country.”

All of the interior framing on the project was done by Green Country Interiors, of Tulsa. Green Country has extensive experience with other Cherokee Casino projects and has proven to be extremely competent on projects of this magnitude.

Design Opportunities

More than 8,400 linear feet of flexible track was used to implement the radius-filled interior design of the project. The casino features multiple radius applications throughout. Large floating clouds between soffits and radius columns with light coves are prominent.

 “The design was a challenge,” says Tim McGuire, vice president and production manager with Green Country Interiors. “But it’s actually sort of fun to start a job like this with anticipation instead of trepidation. We’ve had a lot of experience [using flexible track] on big jobs and there’s no way we could have done the framing the old way. We had complex curves, swooping multi-level soffits and wavy, irregular arcs. Just the stack of blueprints alone would have scared off most contractors!”

Green Country Interiors arrived on the job at the end of February and finished in November. They utilized up to 25 carpenters who worked six 10-hour days each week to frame the soffits. Eight carpenters were responsible for forming all of the curves. Two of them specialized on the multilevel concentric clouds crowning the columns, while six ran the wavy, free flowing layers of soffits that meandered across the area. It was crucial that the curves be smooth to maintain the natural motif and mirror the flowing river theme through the casino.

Tom Guilliaume was Green Country’s field foreman on the job and personally oversaw the forming of the really complex features. Bryan Jenkins was the general foreman.

To transfer the vision of the architect onto the job site, Green Country carpenters laid out the pivot points for the large sweeping radii. They had the advantage of a cavernous area in which to work and were able to mark the radii using a 100-foot tape and a marker. They had to be especially particular about making smooth transitions and accurate connections between the varying radii.

Once the curves and columns were laid out, they were able to easily shape and lock the Flex-C Trac and Flex-C Angle on the ground. 

From Top to Bottom

Carpenters made a top and bottom plate for each shape. Then they drove scissor lifts around and installed all the top plates, using lasers to precisely locate them above the layout on the floor. Next, they traveled through hanging the vertical studs on layout, usually 16 inch on center, changing down to 10 to 12 inch on the tighter radii to ensure the drywall would bend more smoothly. The next crew came through and ran kickers (angle braces) and plumbed every third stud. Then another wave of carpenters was able to take the bottom plate, which they had originally formed, and secure it over the bottoms of the studs. Matching plumb marks on the top and bottom plates guaranteed exact alignment. This same systematic approach was used to frame the different versions of soffits that wove their way across the aerial landscape. Such a reliable technique comes from their experiences using these products.

These fluid forms were covered with 5/8-inch drywall. Some of the areas used 3/8 inch or even 1/4 inch board for the tighter radii as they swirled around the columns.

The result of their systematic process produced a smooth flowing panorama with no hiccups or flat spots, just what architect Chief Boyd envisioned.

Architect Chief Boyd agrees. “The curvable track greatly enhances the contractor’s ability to do curvilinear ceilings. One of the things I’ve always been amazed at is how efficiently the framing contractor can lay out the curved pieces on the floor and use lasers to determine the exact positioning. With the use of the lasers and the curvable track, contractors can knock out these curved ceiling forms in no time at all. I am astounded at how fast and how accurate they can do it.

“The hotel is fully booked on weekends and 70 to 80 percent on weekdays,” he says. “The casino numbers are terrific, too. It’s definitely a destination that offers amenities and venues that aren’t that prevalent in the immediate area.”