Designing sports arenas, theaters,and other specialty structures: Electrical, power, and lighting

Specialty facilities like sports stadiums and theaters have to do more than host the entertainment these days—they’re full of technological bells and whistles and high client expectations when it comes to electrical, power, and lighting.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer August 29, 2018


  • Edward Clements, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President-Mechanical Engineering, HGA Architects and Engineers, Alexandria, Va.
  • David Conrad, PE, Vice President, Peter Basso Associates Inc., Troy, Mich.
  • George B. Holzbach III, PE, Associate Director of Mechanical Engineering, Setty & Associates, Fairfax, Va.
  • Kevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Vice President, Venue Practice Director Henderson Engineers Inc., Overland Park, Kan.
  • Michael Rogers, PE, LEED AP, Senior Principal, Smith Seckman Reid Inc., Nashville, Tenn.
  • Michael Troyer, PMP, RCDD, CTS, LEED AP, Principal/Senior Technologies Designer Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.
  • Corey Wallace, PE, SET, Principal Engineer, Southland Industries, Las Vegas

CSE: What are some key differences in electrical, lighting, and power systems you might incorporate in one of these specialty facilities, compared to other projects?

Holzbach: One way is via central, digital lighting control systems, which allow for flexibility in creating lighting zones and also interface with sports/event lighting controls.

CSE: How does your team work with the architect, owner, and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable?

Holzbach: Design charrettes are a great way to approach this. They establish the level of flexibility best suited for the project. The central control systems play a large part in maintaining energy/sustainability goals through a multitude of features like high-end tuning and daylight harvesting.

CSE: Describe a facility metering or submetering project. What did it include, and what best practices did you include for these facilities?

Holzbach: On our ESA-Washington Wizards/Mystics project, we segregated the electrical loads for the tenant and base building systems. This is a typical approach on projects of this type.

CSE: What types of unusual standby, emergency, or backup power systems have you specified for such facilities? What were the project goals?

Holzbach: On a recent project, we provided a mass notification system for the building/structure and provided an uninterruptible power supply system that allowed the mass notification system to remain active without a reboot for the 10-second interval it typically takes for the building generator to turn on.

CSE: What are some of the challenges when designing electrical, power, and lighting for these specialty structures?

Holzbach: There are myriad challenges involved. One particular example is lighting coordination: Various specialty structures lend themselves to the creation of aesthetic decorative scenes and elements, which in turn avoid glare and light spillover.

CSE: What kind of energy-efficient lighting designs have you incorporated into a project for a specialty structure or to increase the occupant’s experience?

Holzbach: An LED lighting system has been incorporated-we implemented a central lighting control system to create custom scenes and allow for user flexibility.

Lewis: Almost all of the venue projects we are involved with incorporate the use of LED lights in some capacity. LEDs make a lot of sense for areas that are hard to get to or are going to be in use for long periods of time. The payback for these types of lights continues to become reasonable. We also use a fair amount of daylight controls where applicable. For the larger venues, you don’t have as much daylight for the larger assembly areas, so this technique doesn’t always work.

CSE: When designing lighting systems for specialty structures, what design factors are building owners asking for? Are there any particular technical advantages that need to be considered?

Holzbach: In most cases owners tend to want light, but without actually wanting to see the light fixtures. So, it is a challenge creating decorative scenes and elements that comply with these elements and avoid glare and light spillover.