Adapting to Change: Arenas Rely on Steel

Structural steel delivers the flexibility and adaptability required by today and tomorrow’s multipurpose arenas
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Sponsored by The Steel Institute of New York
By Barbara Horwitz-Bennett
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On the Horizon

Whether it is more iconic elements, large retractable roofs, mega-size scoreboards, or large-scale operable windows, future arenas will demand bigger, better, and more advanced facilities than ever before.

And as arenas seek to create more unique experiences, designers will be challenged to find that balance between flexibility and authenticity, or as Miller explains, “conceiving a facility that can easily accommodate any event but also provide a custom-designed, event-specific experience for every fan.”

To address the challenges that lie ahead, Callow believes that structural steel is well served to achieve the high strength, light weight, and ability to fabricate to form unique geometries that will be demanded. Staying a step ahead of the game, Thornton Tomasetti has started creating and integrating fabricator-ready Tekla (a popular BIM software program well suited for structural design) models into its design process for sports projects constructed with steel. “By doing this, we not only can help owners achieve faster schedules, but we can also work through the complicated geometry using parametric tools and develop connections in lock-step with the architect to achieve more dramatic forms,” he explains.

Callow adds that the firm has already been utilizing high-strength 65-ksi steel on numerous long-span projects and anticipates that higher strengths are on the way, particularly with bolted fasteners that may further enhance the efficiency of tomorrow’s structures.

Correa agrees that the high strength and low weight of structural steel makes it the material of choice for long-spanned roofs and cantilevers. “As stadium design evolves to create spaces that are destinations unto themselves, there is increased need to create spectacular design and inviting spaces. In addition, it is becoming more and more prevalent to build arenas and stadiums that can accommodate several weather conditions, and this is done by transparent roofs that open or walls that slide. Structural steel supports these design aspirations well.”

Again, the ultimate goal is gaining the flexibility to be able to operate in a variety of event modes. “With the right brief at the outset, it is possible to design an efficient structure in steel that can accommodate flexibility in spectator requirements and behavior, and different event loading patterns,” says WSP’s Chipchase. “They can also be designed and detailed to facilitate permanent conversion by way of removal, addition, or modification to the primary structure to transform following a major event, for example, where the brief and requirements fundamentally change.”

One other emerging trend is what Aryes describes as entertainment-focused, immersive super theatres. While he cannot specify “where this will take us,” one thing he is sure of is that the inherent benefits of steel will make it the material of choice for long-span arena structures of all shapes and sizes for many years to come.

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett is a veteran architectural journalist who has written hundreds of CEUs and articles for various AEC publications.


The Steel Institute of New York The Steel Institute of New York is a not-for-profit association created to advance the interests of the steel construction industry by helping architects, engineers, developers, and construction managers develop engineering solutions using structural steel construction.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2020