Inside the world's new greenest arena in Seattle (PHOTOS)

Jan 19 2022, 11:18 pm

Over the past half-century, the varying design styles and concepts for major indoor arenas can generally be separated into three well-defined eras.

Between the 1960s and 1980s, indoor arenas were typically simple concrete bowls with little regard to amenities and common areas for spectators. Venues such as Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum — the previous home of the Vancouver Canucks — and Calgary’s Saddledome come to mind as examples of such venues.

New York City’s Madison Square Garden and the Pacific Coliseum, both completed in 1968, carry similar traits that classify them under new formalism architecture, although the Garden, with its wealth of amenities and added features, such as a theatre below the arena, clearly differs from the Vancouver arena’s most basic of uses.

The 1990s and 2000s saw a separate era of evolved arena design that, comparatively, added significantly more amenities, offered larger concourse areas, and introduced more luxury box seating. In fact, more than half of the NHL arenas that are in use today were built in the 1990s, including Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, Montreal’s Bell Centre, and Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, which retained heritage components of the historic Canada Post building.

Now enter the 2010s, when arena design advanced to provide spectators with mall-like retail and dining experiences, vast open spaces, luxurious amenities, new entertainment options, high-tech applications, and digital solutions. No longer are crowds channelled through narrow hallways with little visual interest.

Notable examples are Edmonton’s Rogers Place and Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, which were both built in 2016. By offering spectators further amenities and elevated experiences, arena operators and event organizers are able to create revenue-generating opportunities well beyond the traditional dependence on admission.

Seattle Center Arena Key Arena

Exterior of the pre-rebuild condition of Climate Pledge Arena, when it was the Key Arena. (Jeramey Jannene/Flickr)

Seattle Key Arena

Seattle Key Arena’s basketball mode in 2008, during the final year of the NBA Seattle Supersonics before their relocation to Oklahoma City. (Colin Whittaker/Flickr)

Seattle

Seattle Centre, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, with the Space Needle (centre) and Climate Pledge Arena (right). (Shutterstock)

As a product of the latest advancements in stadium design, downtown Seattle’s newly opened Climate Pledge Arena — designed by world-renowned stadium and convention centre architectural firm Populous, and the home of the NHL’s newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken — has made leaps and bounds in the very concept of what an arena can and should be.

But Climate Pledge Arena is an outlier from other arenas. Its origin story began in the late 1950s, when it was first conceptualized, long before it took the earlier form of Key Arena.

Originally designed by locally celebrated architect Paul Thiry, the venue was conceived for the 1962 World’s Fair as the Washington State Pavilion — a giant indoor exhibition space. Shortly after Expo, the building’s cavernous interior was repurposed for its first iteration as an indoor arena, and it carried the name of Seattle Center Coliseum for much of its history leading into the 1990s.

A mid-life retrofit of the city-owned arena, three decades old at the time, was performed in 1995, and it was subsequently renamed Key Arena.

However, the world-class, state-of-the-art venue that exists today does not use any of the innards of the previous arena.

In Summer 2017, the City of Seattle designated Key Arena’s iconic pitched roof as a protected heritage structure, requiring the city’s newly selected private arena operator, Oak View Group, to pursue an arena concept that retained and integrated the existing roof with the new structure.

Beginning in December 2018, the interior was completely gutted. All that was left of the original building was its World’s Fair-era roof, which saw its structural supports completely severed from the ground and replaced with temporary columns for the duration of the early construction stages.

climate pledge arena construction seattle march 2019

March 2019: Demolition of the old facility at Climate Pledge Arena. (NHL)

climate pledge arena construction seattle july 2019

July 2019: Exterior view on interior demolition activities at Climate Pledge Arena. (NHL)

climate pledge arena construction seattle november 2019

November 2019: Excavation activities at Climate Pledge Arena, with the historic roof held up by temporary columns. (NHL)

This allowed for the excavation of 600,000 cubic yards of soil and rock to a depth of an additional 15 ft beneath the structure’s original concrete slab. Digging downwards for added space doubled the building’s floor area to about 860,000 sq ft, enabling significantly expanded and modern back-of-house and loading areas, concourse, retail, dining, entertainment spaces, and other amenities. New permanent structural columns for the roof were built at a later stage of construction.

Deemed part of the heritage roof, about 30,000 sq ft of old glass panels that enclosed the arena’s exterior were also retained.

The highly unconventional process of keeping the existing roof is unquestionably a feat of engineering, but it came with a final US$1.15 billion construction cost. This approach was significantly higher than the alternative of a new-build structure from scratch, involving an implosion of the entire structure and roof — just like Seattle’s Kingdome in 2000.

climate pledge arena construction seattle january 2020

January 2020: Excavation activities at Climate Pledge Arena, with the historic roof held up by temporary columns. (NHL)

climate pledge arena construction seattle january 2020

January 2020: Excavation activities at Climate Pledge Arena, with the historic roof held up by temporary columns. (NHL)

climate pledge arena construction seattle january 2020

January 2020: Excavation activities at Climate Pledge Arena, with the historic roof held up by temporary columns. (NHL)

In fact, Climate Pledge Arena carries the title of the world’s second most expensive NHL- and NBA-ready venue — just after the conversion of the Millennium Dome in London into The O2 Arena in 2007, which cost just under US$1.2 billion in 2021 dollars. Not entirely dissimilar to the constraints and conditions for building Climate Pledge Arena, the O2 Arena completely gutted the interior of the dome, which was first built in 1999 as an exhibition attraction to celebrate the new millennium. Only the dome shell of the structure was retained for the arena and its various entertainment facilities.

There are a wide range of factors that determine construction cost, including design scope, ground conditions, local market conditions for labour and materials, and local regulations, but Climate Pledge Arena still comes far ahead even when the most recent arenas are adjusted for inflation for comparison. For instance, the more conventional recent new-build arena designs of Rogers Place and T-Mobile Arena carried costs of US$425 million and US$415 million, respectively, in 2021 dollars.

While Climate Pledge Arena’s price tag is substantially higher, the opposite is true for its environmental impact.

Retaining the existing roof prevented 22,000 tonnes of concrete and steel material from being sent to the landfill. By doing so, greenhouse gas emissions generated by truck trips required to transport the debris away and bring in fabricated roof materials were eliminated, and the process to create the additional steel and concrete needed for a new roof structure was avoided.

The arena saw scope changes in the middle of construction from the addition of major green building design features after Amazon reached an agreement in June 2020 to acquire the building’s naming rights.

climate pledge arena construction seattle december 2020

December 2020: Newly installed Climate Pledge Arena sign atop the historic roof. (NHL)

climate pledge arena construction seattle december 2020

December 2020: Newly installed Climate Pledge Arena sign atop the historic roof. (NHL)

As the arena’s chosen name would indicate, Amazon deviated from the typical practice of using its naming rights investment as an opportunity to showcase its own corporate brand. Instead, the arena was named after Amazon’s 2019-launched global Climate Pledge initiative of transitioning the company’s energy uses to zero emissions by 2040 — 10 years earlier than the Paris Agreement’s timeline of 2050.

Amazon has come under much scrutiny for its environmental impact, given that the total emissions of its global operations are equivalent to those of small countries. But the company, now guided by its Climate Pledge, has indicated it is making major investments to overhaul its operations, switch to electricity that comes from renewable sources, and transition its fleets to electric-battery vehicles.

Climate Pledge also goes beyond the company’s footprint, as Amazon is also actively pursuing other entities to make the same changes and commitments by 2040. So far, 217 companies and organizations are signatories in the pledge, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Alaska Airlines, Jet Blue, Uber, Atos, Deloitte, Best Buy, Pepsico, Coca-Cola Europe, Proctor and Gamble, Philps, and Siemens.

The Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena organizations are amongst the signatories, as are Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and retailer Holt Renfrew, and Vancouver-based Harbour Air Seaplanes.

Over the same week as the 2020 naming rights announcement, Amazon followed up its initial Climate Pledge commitment by setting aside US$2 billion for the initiative’s venture capital fund of accelerating new climate action technology innovations.

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena from the upper concourse. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena at the ice surface level. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

With Amazon’s involvement in the facility, the original plans to install natural gas connections and other associated fossil-fuel-powered equipment were cancelled, effectively redirecting Climate Pledge Arena onto the path to become North America’s first all-electric indoor arena. All building systems, including water heating boilers, space heating, ice surface dehumidification, and even cooking, are completely electric. The pair of Zambonis used to resurface the ice rink are electric-battery models.

“We actually made the decision six weeks into the pandemic to eliminate all fossil fuels,” Rob Johnson, the vice president of sustainability and transportation for the Climate Pledge Arena and Seattle Kraken, and a former Seattle city councillor, told Daily Hive Urbanized during a private arena tour last month.

“We were designed, fully permitted, and under construction. A lot of the building systems were basically redesigned from a natural gas component to an all-electric component.”

Solar panels on a portion of the south-facing roof of the new atrium and an adjacent parkade generate enough electricity to support between 3% and 5% of the arena’s power needs, with the remaining electricity acquired from green sources, specifically a wind farm in Eastern Washington.

By 2024, a new off-site solar farm operated by electric utility Seattle City Light could allow Climate Pledge Arena to lay claim that it is 100% powered by renewable electricity.

But to go even further than that, Johnson hopes there will also be a day when solar arrays can be installed on a 40,000 sq ft portion of the sprawling historic roof, without impacting the heritage preservation requirements.

Furthermore, illustrative of their environmental commitment, wherever they are, the Kraken’s dedicated, newly built practice facility in the Northgate neighbourhood was also topped off with 50,000 sq ft of solar panels.

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Exterior of the Alaska Airlines Atrium expansion made for Climate Pledge Arena. The rooftop of the atrium is covered with solar panels. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s rainwater collection system, with storage and purification systems located at the ice rink level. The water is reused for ice surface making and maintenance. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Electric-battery Zambonis at Climate Pledge Arena. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Supplementing water conservation strategies, a rainwater collection system has been installed in Climate Pledge Arena, with water from the roof funnelled into a 15,000 gallon cistern on the lower level, where it goes through a purification system for reuse to create and maintain the ice surface. This is in addition to the building’s on-site retention tanks to reduce stormwater runoff.

Another source of emissions comes from the tonnes of food and beverages that are shipped in to feed up to 18,100 spectators at the arena each event day. Not only is the food sustainably sourced, but about 75% strategically comes from within a 300-mile (483 km) radius of Seattle to reduce the emissions associated with transporting goods from longer distances.

“When we talk about sustainability, we want to talk about the trucks delivering. So if we’re bringing in product from Mexico, it’s not logical, so we’re utilizing small businesses and minority-owned businesses to help improve the community, and allowing them to be more fruitful and scale up,” said Molly De Mers, the executive chef that is responsible for food service operations at Climate Pledge Arena.

Moreover, the arena has simplified its overall supply chain to reach a target diversion rate of at least 97%, and this is compounded by extensive composting and recycling operations, and the 2024 goal of removing single-use plastics. For instance, single-use plastic beer cups account for much of the volume in waste generated by stadium events, but Climate Pledge Arena addresses this issue by using durable aluminum beer cups that encourage spectators to bring home as souvenirs and for reuse, or for recycle.

“Guests want to come here, and not think they’re in trouble for using plastic. They are here for an experience, and so it’s creating a relationship with the community that is more so about educating and storytelling,” continued De Mers.

“If you make all these little tweaks, it adds up huge. The responsibility lies on us, the corporations, which have a huge platform. That is what we’re doing here, holding us accountable, and really reinventing the way we’ve always done business. Sustainability is as much a top priority as revenue.”

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Alaska Airlines Atrium grand entrance at Climate Pledge Arena. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Team corridor to the ice rink at Climate Pledge Arena. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena seating. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Sustainable strategies have also been devised for how spectators get to and leave Climate Pledge Arena, given that transportation accounts for a sizeable share of emissions in any urban environment.

Through the Climate Pledge Arena app, all Kraken spectators have access to a free public transit pass for use two hours before doors open and two hours after a home game. Spectators can take a quick ride on the Seattle Monorail, boarding from Seattle Centre Station, located next to the arena, for connections to Link LRT, streetcar, and bus services, or to reach their park-and-ride facility or hotel in downtown. The free rides are funded by the Kraken.

Even under pandemic conditions, Johnson says, about 25% of the spectators to most events are taking public transit, which aligns with their first year goal, and is 10% higher than the modal share experienced during Key Arena’s final years. About 20% take the monorail, and the remaining 5% use other public transit services.

Higher transit modal targets will be set in future years, when major expansions of the LRT reach completion to make public transit dramatically more convenient and accessible across the Seattle region.

“With transportation being one of the potential achilles heels of our building, we spent a lot of time not only how we could find ways to reduce traffic to the neighbourhood, but also could we promote more folks to take public transit to be consistent with the Climate Pledge,” continued Johnson.

Highly limited on-site vehicle parking is built into the new arena, with the parking supply largely dedicated for operational, staff, and VIP needs, and outfitted with electric-battery vehicle charging equipment.

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena looking towards the living green wall. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena in hockey mode for the NHL Seattle Kraken. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium during a NHL Seattle Kraken game. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

At the end of each year, all emissions directly and indirectly generated by the arena’s operations will be compiled. If required, carbon credits will also be bought — jointly covered by Oak View Group and Amazon — to offset any generated carbon that could not be avoided. Building operators are striving to reach “net zero” as soon as possible.

The annual emissions calculation will be highly comprehensive, accounting for building operations and performance, food, merchandise, and other vendor supplies, and the travel of the Kraken and their opponents, as well as spectator surveys that shed light on the mode of transportation used. For accountability, transparency, and knowledge-sharing reasons, this information on emissions will be released publicly each year.

The calculation of Climate Pledge Arena’s first 12 months of operations, ending in Fall 2022, will be particularly pivotal, as it will determine whether the building becomes the first arena in the world to be Net Zero Carbon certified under the International Living Future Institute, which has standards that are far more ambitious than LEED.

Essentially, says Johnson, the certification has four components: eliminating all fossil fuels, generating on-site renewable energy, procuring new renewable energy, and accounting for all carbon emissions generated.

Highly symbolic to these sustainability efforts is the massive living green wall on the arena’s main concourse, located underground. Spanning a length of 200 ft (61 metres), it has quickly become one of the facility’s most Instagrammable features.

climate pledge arena green wall seattle

December 2021: Living green wall inside Climate Pledge Arena. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by GNARLY (@gnarly_majerle)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Julie Fry (@fry.girl648)

The green wall by Habitat Horticulture contains approximately 8,500 plants from over two dozen local species, with the plants held in place by spongey pouches made of recycled water bottles, and the water used to maintain the lush greenery recycled from within the wall itself. Furthermore, the plants are intertwined with large LCD displays that are turned on during events to display the growing number of Climate Pledge signatories.

“It’s one of the ways to bring nature inside, and have you really feel connected to the mission of the team, the arena, and certainly the Climate Pledge. It really has been one of the coolest parts of the building,” said Johnson.

Other large digital screens cover the walls and ceilings of other key focal and gathering points of the arena.

Another impressive space is the new Alaska Airlines Atrium — an airy and spacious 36,000 sq ft expansion footprint on the south side of the arena. It serves as the grand entrance from Seattle Center’s main pedestrian corridors just footsteps from the Space Needle, and Lenny Wilkens Way. The glass-enclosed atrium establishes the main vertical circulation point between the upper concourse and main concourse, and is the strategic location of the arena’s main Kraken fan store, called The Lair.

While Amazon has shied away from directly showcasing its corporate muscle in Climate Pledge Arena, the company has equipped four food and beverage stores with the Amazon Just Walk Out technology with Amazon One, which allows event attendees to pick items from a shelf and literally walk out with their purchases without any cashier interaction. The process begins with attendees inserting their credit card at a store’s entry gates or hovering their hand over an Amazon One device. This makes the in-arena shopping experience more efficient, reducing entrance lines and wait times.

Climate Pledge Arena marked its official opening on October 22, 2021 with festivities headlined by Coldplay. The following day, October 23, the venue held its first NHL home game, but the Kraken were no match against the Vancouver Canucks, losing 4-2.

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

climate pledge arena seattle december 2021

December 2021: Climate Pledge Arena’s Alaska Airlines Atrium. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ News
+ Architecture & Design
+ Offside
+ Hockey
+ Urbanized
+ Kraken
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT