Designing sports arenas, theaters, and other specialty structures

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.


Designing sports arenas, theaters, and other specialty structures: HVACRespondents

  • 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's the biggest trend you see today in these types of specialty structures?

Edward Clements: First and foremost, the trend that I see is focusing on the patron experience. Whether it be occupant comfort, improving sightlines, optimal acoustics, or amenity offerings, the focus is definitely on improving the overall experience for the people filling the seats. Efficiency and sustainability are also major factors, but they are there to augment the overall experience rather than the primary drivers of the projects' design and construction.

George B. Holzbach III: We've seen a lot of combining of disparate spaces into consolidated structures. Our current ESA-Washington Wizards/Mystics project in Washington, D.C., combined a practice facility with office space, as well as an entertainment bowl for Washington Mystics games and a large swath of entertainment events (Amateur Athletic Union basketball, concerts, e-gaming tournaments, etc).

Kevin Lewis: The biggest trend we are seeing in venues is the continued move toward entertainment destinations. Venues such as stadiums, arenas, conventions centers, and theaters lend themselves well to supporting additional square footage, such as retail, restaurants, hospitality, office, and residential spaces. Venues anchor what essentially become "microcities" in a larger setting.

Michael Rogers: The size and services provided in today's stadiums have to be one of the most dominating trends. Nine years ago, when AT&T Stadium was completed as the Dallas Cowboy's new home, it was the biggest, most expensive stadium in the United States. Now, with the L.A. Rams stadium underway and the Las Vegas Raiders stadium fast on their heels, there seems to be a new standard for size, cost, and amenities in these structures. It's not seat counts that are driving these changes, but the experience. Numerous clubs, specialty dining, indoor activity areas, and a vast array of retail spaces are quickly turning these stadiums into destinations for the day, not just during the few hours a game takes to play.

Michael Troyer: Passive optical networks (PON) and Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON) is a trend. These systems allow for the transmission of digital signals over fiber without using active electronics. One of the best uses for this is the point-to-multipoint distribution typical in broadcast or massive distribution-type scenarios. They will work similarly well with bidirectional use, such as facilitywide Wi-Fi and intercom systems.

Corey Wallace: We're seeing more performance-based design using fire modeling.

CSE: What trends are on the horizon for such projects?

Holzbach: We've seen a number of growing trends in our current and past projects. Biometrics for security/access is not exactly a new trend, but it's one that's growing and being used more frequently. This technology allows access to a facility or area within a building according to an individual's bodily elements or biological data. In a sports arena, this can allow for very secure access to certain player areas. Another burgeoning trend for these larger and specialty facilities is to use "ionization" to clean air and reduce ventilation requirements. The most successful of these technologies uses tubes inserted in the airstream that break down air into oppositely charged "ions." This, in turn, allows particulates in the air to be removed, thus cleaning the air. Additionally, most municipal codes are now allowing for these technologies to reduce the amount of ventilation air required by code to be brought into a building. In the end, you have much cleaner building air and the ability to significantly reduce HVAC equipment sizes due to the reduced outside-air requirements, saving the project on first cost as well as operating cost over the lifetime of the building.

Wallace: A trend I see is an adjustment to current codes.

Lewis: Continuing on the theme of venues anchoring additional spaces, we are seeing a movement where health care plays a big role in this development. In this sense, health care encompasses support of young athletes as they hone their skills, providing specialized facilities for empty nesters looking to be more physically fit, and the more traditional approach of providing care for those that are injured or sick. In essence, the health care aspect really supports the microcity approach.

Clements: I would definitely anticipate more development in augmented reality and increased incorporation of technology into theater facilities. So much is available at the touch of a button from the comfort of peoples' homes-the theater has to be able to deliver a unique experience that makes the visit worth the patron's time and admission.

Troyer: One recurring trend in sports arenas, specifically, is they are becoming more of a destination in and of themselves rather than just a venue. Many stadiums are now hosting multiple sports rather than catering to just one. We are seeing an increase in an arena's amenities areas so circulation is not as crowded and spectators can have more options for entertainment than just the event itself. Along with the increase in spaces not dedicated to seating or the event itself, we are seeing more audio/video (AV) distribution throughout these facilities such that a spectator does not have to be in a seat to continue viewing and hearing the event.

CSE: Tell us about a recent project you've worked on that's innovative, large-scale, or otherwise noteworthy. In your description, please include significant details-location, systems your team engineered, key players, interesting challenges or solutions, etc.

Wallace: We worked on Resort's World in Las Vegas. The project was initially under construction and was placed on hold in 2008 as a casualty of the recession. The site construction restarted in 2017. The property will contain structures of more than 21 million sq ft once all phases are complete. There will be four hotel towers with the largest tower height of approximately 663 ft from grade to roof. The site has a central plant building, facilities building, theater, nightclub, casino, restaurant, retail spaces, and two aboveground parking garages. My team engineered the sitewide fire-suppression systems including dual-site fire pumps, tower fire pumps, water-storage tanks, a standpipe, and sprinkler systems. Key players included a Resorts World owner fire life safety representative, FEA Consulting Engineers, JENSEN HUGHES, and Clark County Building and Fire Prevention. Interesting challenges were the design had to account for the original project construction constraints, the sure size of the sprawling site generates issues to have a comprehensive fire-suppression design as well as the building height, and the owner's team involved key stakeholders early on in the design process to ensure fire protection design solutions included well-thought-out engineering and constructability. Many projects do not use contractor input/experience at the concept phase. The early involvement has alleviated design issues that generally surface late in construction. The true coordination between the sprinkler contractor consultant, fire/life safety consultant, owner, and fire department allowed clear solutions.

Rogers: Little Caesars Arena recently opened as the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons, replacing the Joe Louis Arena and the Palace. It also is the anchor for a new sports and entertainment district in downtown Detroit. This unique arena not only supports professional hockey and basketball, but is a multi-use facility suitable for concerts, action sports, trade shows, conventions, and other events. The arena itself is separated from the retail and office spaces by a covered "via," giving patrons the feeling they have left the arena and ventured out to the retail areas without actually going outside. SSR provided mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection (MEP/FP) and energy consulting on this project. Construction was accomplished by a joint venture between Barton Malow/Hunt/White Construction, and the design was completed through a design-assist process allowing the contractors to play an intimate roll in finalizing the design.

Lewis: We are the engineer of record for the new Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District located in Inglewood, Calif. Specifically, we are focused on the 75,000-seat stadium and 6,000-seat performance venue. Both of these venues will represent state-of-the-art facilities with truly unique amenities and structures. The size and scale of this project, combined with its location relevant to its surroundings, posed several challenges that required a high level of coordination with all design and build partners involved in the project.

Clements: The largest specialty structure I've worked on was a large church in Leawood, Kan. HGA was commissioned to design the architecture, structure, and HVAC systems for the building. The sanctuary seats roughly 4,000 patrons, with room enough on the platform for a full orchestra and 100-person choir in the loft. The facility includes a video-production suite-the church simulcasts services to each of the three sanctuaries in the Leawood campus location as well as to sister locations in Kansas City and online. The HVAC systems for the building incorporate energy recovery for ventilation and use displacement ventilation for conditioning of the sanctuary. The existing campus central plant was upgraded to add capacity for the new sanctuary and a narthex, along with provisions for a future addition to the chapel.

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