The O2 Arena

London, England, United Kingdom

CHALLENGE. Formerly the Millennium Dome, the O2 Arena is one of the world’s most individual contemporary structures. When Populous was challenged by client AEG to construct an arena within its confines, the analogy of building a ship within a bottle — albeit at the largest scale imaginable — came to mind. On top of this, the acoustics within the finished arena had to be world class in order to attract the caliber of artists that the sponsor was looking for. And, 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 had to turn it blue.

INNOVATION. Logistically, the arena’s roof had to sit tightly beneath the dome liner fabric, with a minimum 4 meter separation for air and smoke reservoir provisions. An innovative structural methodology meant the building cores and roof system could be erected without tower cranes. The arena’s design responds to its unique context, with public concourses wrapped around the event space and seating bowl. Dramatic lighting emphasizes the scale and volume of the public space.

"The O2 Arena is without a doubt the best venue in the world."

Frank Warren

IMPACT. The O2 is the biggest ticket-selling arena in the world, out-selling its nearest rival by over 50%. The arena hosts the most significant events in the world, such as the ATP tennis finals, as well as the highest profile concerts. 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 river-boat service. In 2016, The Populous team revisited the arena, redeveloping the wayfinding identity on Concourse Level 1.

Services Provided

As the architect of this iconic project, Populous was tasked with designing a large-capacity, multipurpose arena within London’s iconic Dome building. Our team guided the project from the initial concept design stages through to completion, working with the engineers to find innovative workarounds for the restrictions on traditional construction methods imposed by the height of the Dome’s roof. Since opening in 2007, the arena has established itself as one of Europe’s biggest and boldest venues for concerts and shows, hosting the likes of AC/DC, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Elton John, Madonna, Prince and Cirque du Soleil. As of 2017, it has also become the busiest venue in the world in terms of ticket sales, ahead of Madison Square Garden in New York and the Manchester Arena.

Brand Activation

For a long time, the Millennium Dome was talked about as London’s biggest white elephant. The challenge for our brand activation team was to transform the public perception of the building and to make the space into a vibrant, exciting experience for every visitor and fan — and, more importantly, into a branded experience. O2 and AEG, however, didn’t want it to feel like a standard corporate sponsorship. They wanted to express their brand values in a much more organic way.

Our solution to the problem was what we called ‘the DNA approach.’ We took the view that the identity of O2 should flow through the building like blood through a human body. Signs glow blue, subconsciously reminding event-goers of the sponsor.

The materials used are consistent with the O2 brand language. The exclusive O2 lounge has blue water tanks with air bubbles rising up through them, just as you see in O2 advertising. The O2 Arena breathes its brand.

The O2 brand activation, widely regarded as the most successful across any U.K. venue, has transformed the perception of what corporate sponsorship and branding looks like. O2 is now a global name, indelibly marked in the public’s subconscious.

Interior Design

Populous’ interior design team undertook the design and delivery of the arena’s VIP O2 Lounge. The concept behind the lounge was to create a series of interlinked yet intimate zones which represented the brand identity of O2.

With a capacity of 200, the scheme challenges the traditional notion of a VIP lounge by utilizing stretched fabrics such as Barrisol to create a space with ‘blurred edges,’ in which the walls and ceilings merge to provide a unique, flowing visual experience.

Shells and tunnels form the main compositional elements of the scheme, providing a stark spatial contrast to the large open central bar area and creating a continually changing experience for the user as they move through the space. Floating luminescent elements and lighting levels define the mood of the lounge, while the background lighting and projections onto the translucent Barrisol cladding create a dramatic ambience. Design details such as the internally-lit bar and drinks shelves and the sparkling banquette seating reinforce the luxury and exclusivity of the space.

Header image credit: The O2 and Luke Dyson

21st annual Pollstar Concert Industry Awards, International Arena of the Year
Sign Design Awards
Structural Awards, Award for Arts or Entertainment Structures
Structural Steel Design Award, Steelwork by integrated team working
National Association of Shopfitters, Runner-up for the VIP Bar
RICS Award, Regeneration category
FX magazine award, Technology integration innovation product
Regeneration Awards, Best Commercial-led Project of the Year
Regeneration Awards, Challenging Regeneration Project of the Year
Pollstar Concert Industry Awards, Best New Concert Venue and Best International Arena
Project Team
Connect with the designers

Nicholas Reynolds

Garry Reeves

Simon Borg