Live from Populous: Designing for Music

October 25, 2023

From Live Aid at Wembley Stadium to Johnny Cash performing at Folsom State Prison to Nirvana’s performance on MTV Unplugged, live performances stamp our memories with milestone musical moments.

The Beatles’ 1965 performance at Shea Stadium — now Populous-designed Citi Field — was the genesis of musical performances for the masses. Their performance to over 55,000 fans pushed stadium concerts into the mainstream. Since then, books and documentaries have chronicled it as the “first great stadium rock show,” and live performances have never slowed down.

There is a reason live music is universally loved. The depth, diversity and accessibility of music ties people together across the globe. There isn’t a certain “type” of concertgoer; 55-year-olds reliving the songs of their youth at a sold-out Metallica show fit the bill just as much as teenagers toting feather boas to a sold-out Harry Styles concert. A truly universal thread, few things bring people together like live music.

From O2 Arena, one of the top ticket-selling arenas in the world, to Climate Pledge Arena, existing at the junction of positive social change and iconic performances, our designs have helped weave the intricate story of live performances.

Looking at our projects through the experience of live music, we are taking a deep dive into our six most iconic and up-and-coming live music venues: Wembley Stadium, UBS Arena, Acrisure Arena, Climate Pledge Arena, O2 Arena and Philippine Arena

We understand entertainment — from the technical infrastructure necessary to do it right to the creation of moments that release a flood of adrenaline in the body. Our unique expertise allows us to design world-class music venues that are also world-class sports venues. Our knowledge in both fields allows us to meld them seamlessly into a singular venue without ever compromising the art, fandom or experience itself.


Wembley Stadium 
London, England, United Kingdom

The old Wembley Stadium was one of the most famous sporting and entertainment venues in Britain, known the world over for events such as the 1923 FA Cup Final, the 1948 Olympic and Paralympic Games and Live Aid in the summer of 1985. When the Football Association asked World Stadium Team (Populous and Foster + Partners) to design a replacement for their venerated stadium, the challenge was of course to provide the state-of-the-art facilities needed for the next generation of players, performers and spectators, while retaining — or in fact creating — the sense of magic that makes Wembley such a special place.

The seating at Wembley Stadium is designed as a single bowl, which gives every spectator an unobstructed view of the stage, as well as increases the intensity of the atmosphere. An unobstructed view of the stage for every spectator is no small feat considering the stadium holds 90,000 seats. The geometry of the design brought Wembley heritage into the 21st century, with a new, open four-tier seating bowl achieving excellent sightlines across the stage and improved spectator comfort. The roof and bowl were both acoustically engineered to replicate the famous “Wembley Roar,” enhancing the atmosphere and sense of occasion for concertgoers and performers alike.

Wembley Stadium has seen many of the most iconic performances in live music history. In June of 2007, Muse was one of the first acts to play in the reopened stadium. With 180,000 tickets sold across two shows, they were also the first to completely sell out the venue. From the Foo Fighters performance with special guests Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin in 2008, to three sold-out shows from Ed Sheeran in July 2015, to BTS becoming the first South Korean group to headline and sell out Wembley in June 2019, the stadium has been an integral part of music history.

UBS Arena 
Elmont, New York, United States 

UBS Arena is a next-generation arena designed for music and built for hockey, located in the heart of Belmont Gardens, offering state-of-the-art acoustics for the world’s top artists and exemplary sightlines for New York Islanders fans. 

The arena features a cutting-edge sound system and absorptive material throughout the seating bowl, amplifying the acoustic experience. Upholstered seating also strengthens the acoustics in the arena and ensures that sound quality is maintained no matter the number of attendees, from sound check to live performances.

For performers, the arena offers operationally-efficient spaces, boasting an easily accessible load-in/load-out sequence, with one of the largest marshaling yards in the industry. This is a covered, enclosed and heated space with direct ramp access to the arena floor.

The arena also houses a star compound, designed specifically for performers. The luxurious interior design includes high quality finishes, custom area rugs, rich wallcovering, artwork and decorative lighting.

To ensure concertgoers feel as welcome as hockey fans, Populous incorporated upscale finishes throughout the arena. The concourses feature artisan white subway tile to brighten the space, wood paneling and high-end light fixtures that radiate theatrical light to promote the premium experience.

From Harry Styles and Kendrick Lamar to Iron Maiden, UBS Arena continues to bring people together for the love of an incredible show. With Zach Bryan, Stevie Nicks and Billy Joel already booked for the 2024 concert season, UBS Arena is sure to see another year of remarkable performances.  

Acrisure Arena 
Palm Desert, California, United States 

Nestled between the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and surrounded by Joshua Tree National Park, Coachella Valley is a region with a rich history in musical entertainment. Acrisure Arena, with a concert capacity of 11,000, marries an intimate and personalized venue with the infrastructure and technology to serve as an ideal jumping-off destination for artists beginning major tours along the West Coast of the U.S. 

To serve as a first stop for large West Coast tours, the Acrisure Arena’s infrastructure, along with its artist amenities, rival those of any major venue of larger capacity. Its rigging system boasts the same capabilities of major performance venues, allowing artists to fully test their touring setup and entertainment assets in their first show. Also a hockey arena, the conscious choice to forgo a center-hung scoreboard allows for artists to rig their stage show any way they choose with easy access to multiple catwalks.

In addition, the intimate size of the venue allows for optimal performance acoustics. The rigging grid is approximately 60 feet above the ground, compared to a traditional 120 feet in a larger arena. This, coupled with sound paneling and the two-level structure of the bowl, creates excellent acoustics, while also generating a loud atmosphere for hockey games. 

One of the most attractive aspects for artists visiting Acrisure Arena is the expansive artist compound. A space traditionally hidden underground, the star areas at Acrisure are both indoors and outdoors, with an outdoor space that includes sports areas, a bar and an eating area for artists and their groups. In addition, all indoor star areas are located directly off the loading dock, so artists and their crews can position their vehicles at the loading dock and walk right into their green rooms and crew areas, all outfitted with lounges, restrooms and prep areas. 

The venue opened its doors with a performance from the Doobie Brothers on their 50th anniversary tour. For 2024, Acrisure boasts a concert lineup of Madonna, Olivia Rodrigo and Luis Miguel.

Climate Pledge Arena 
Seattle, Washington, United States 

Populous designed this 740,000-square-foot arena with three goals: to create the most sustainable arena in the world, to responsibly revitalize a historic landmark and to cultivate the ultimate fan experience. Located in Seattle, Washington, Climate Pledge Arena is the largest indoor venue in the Pacific Northwest.

Unlike any other arena video display, Populous designed the industry’s first dual suspended arena scoreboards — a signature element of Climate Pledge Arena. Behind this new design lies a thorough analysis of on-ice and on-court action for hockey and basketball, spectator and athlete sightlines, and flexibility for shows and concerts. The result is a pair of distinctly-shaped video displays that place digital content in an ideal location for spectators, improving the atmosphere and connection between fans on opposite sides of the seating bowl. Setting this forward-thinking design innovation under the historic roof honors the legacy of the building, which was to showcase futuristic ideas and exhibits as part of the “World of Tomorrow” theme of the 1962 World’s Fair. 

Climate Pledge Arena is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most significant private investments in sports and entertainment history. The Populous design challenges the status quo to create a functional and iconic arena from the videoboards to the expansive, universally accessible outdoor plaza. It also contributes to a critical movement within the industry to transition the built environment from a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central solution to the climate crisis. These sustainable design strategies and ambitious targets set a new bar for the global sports and events industry.

Reopening its doors to the public with an electric performance by Coldplay in 2021, Climate Pledge Arena immediately made a name for itself within the live music industry. From iconic performances by Andrea Bocelli, to nostalgic rock fueled shows by Evanescence and Halestorm to a pop-filled powerhouse of a show by Bad Bunny, Climate Pledge Arena has already seen its fair share of extraordinary performances since opening.

The O2 Arena 
London, England, United Kingdom 

Formerly the Millennium Dome, The O2 Arena in London, England, is one of the world’s most individual contemporary structures. When challenged to construct an arena within the confines of London’s iconic Dome building, the analogy of building a ship within a bottle — albeit at the largest scale imaginable — came to mind. 

In addition, the acoustics within the finished arena had to be world class to attract the caliber of artists that the sponsor was looking for. Perhaps most challenging of all, we had to change the public’s perception of the Dome. Once seen as London’s biggest white elephant, our brand activation team turned it blue.

The arena is also fully accessible, allowing music lovers to attend shows without added stress. Those with tickets for accessible seating can use any entrance and there are elevators to every level of the venue. Wheelchair-dedicated bays are found on level one, allowing room for wheelchair users and those accompanying them to attend concerts. These bays come with stewards and are raised above general seating, guaranteeing unobstructed sightlines.

The arena has hosted some of the most significant events in the world, such as the ATP tennis finals, as well as high profile concerts like AC/DC, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Elton John and Madonna. On top of this, as the largest entertainment zone in London, The O2 has been a catalyst for the redevelopment of the Greenwich peninsula, prompting valuable additions to the area’s infrastructure such as the new riverboat service.

Philippine Arena
Ciudad De Victoria, Bulacan, Philippines

Philippine Arena is one of the world’s largest indoor arenas, capable of seating 50,000 fans in a fully enclosed building. It is difficult to give 50,000 people a good view of a single focal point and create an intimate atmosphere. A facility of this size also needs to avoid feeling empty during smaller events. The design had to enable large crowds to enter and exit the arena quickly and safely, and account for the region’s  humid, tropical climate and location in an earthquake zone.

To build at such a vast scale, the boundaries of traditional arena design were pushed. The arena’s form uses geometry to create an elegant appearance and powerful presence. To give every seat a clear sightline, even as the arena’s configuration changes to accommodate diverse events, the Philippine Arena was designed as a one-sided bowl in a tight, compact saddle shape that is high in the center and drops at the flanks.

Recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest mixed-use indoor theater, Philippine Arena has hosted events with massive crowds. From U2 to Harry Styles to Blackpink, Philippine Arena continues to attract some of the biggest names in the music industry. 

We begin the design of spaces by engaging diverse stakeholders, embracing their differences, and creating a range of experiences for them. This culminates in designs for a district, building or space that is authentic to a place and its people and flexible enough to evolve over time. 

Our passion for the undercurrents of our work — whether that be music, art or sports — gives us a defining edge in creating experiences that draw people together. Live music, though ever-changing, will always require a unique space in which it can be experienced fully. Our firsthand knowledge of meeting the needs of audiences and fans pushes entertainment and out-of-home congregate events forward in positive ways. We work diligently behind the scenes to create spaces worthy of the beauty that is shared human experiences. 


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