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Glasgow adds 12,000 seat arena to city’s riverside venues

The SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) Hydro arena has held its first week of events, beginning with four nights of Rod Stewart. The opening night deadline was met despite a fire in the roof during the final few weeks of construction, which threatened to delay delivery by contractor Lend Lease. Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) Chief Executive Officer, John Sharkey, said:

Everything about this building is world class. The engineering is fantastic, the architecture is outstanding, the acoustics tremendous. We have a host of large scale and high profile events planned, such as the World Gymnastics Championships, to the opening ceremony of the Ryder Cup, where we will be looking forward to welcoming around one million people per year to The SSE Hydro, from the World.

The Foster and Partners design competes visually with the Clyde Auditorium (Armadillo) and adds to the eye candy along the Glasgow waterfront. Built on the site of the former Queen’s Dock, the £125 million arena has a seated capacity of 12,000, rising to 13,000 with a seated and standing configuration. Around one million people are expected to attend approximately 140 music, sport and comedy events at The SSE Hydro each year, placing it alongside the likes of the O2 and Madison Square Garden as one of the busiest venues of its kind in the world.

In keeping with recent trends, the façade uses LED lighting to light up the Glasgow river front with a colourful glow. The distinctive elliptical sloping shape offers the optimum balance of viewing angle and distance from the stage.

Spencer de Grey, Head of Design, Foster + Partners said:

With its vast steel roof and capacity for 13,000, this is the largest performance arena that the practice has designed – operationally, it allows performers a great deal of freedom in staging events, and visually, its form helps to capture the excitement of a concert. We were delighted to have the opportunity to work with SECC once again, almost 18 years since we were first commissioned to design the Clyde Auditorium. The SSE Hydro has been a great team effort and it is fantastic to see the arena come to life for its first concert.

The 1,400 tonne steel diagrid roof, one of Europe’s largest free-spanning roof structures, is held aloft by a circular array of angled concrete fins, which support a tilted seating bowl, designed to draw the audience close to the stage and provide the best possible viewing angles from every seat.

The whole building can function as a huge screen for projections, and every aspect of the state-of-the-art lighting system can be programmed, allowing performers great creative freedom to shape the venue, inside and out. Inside the seating bowl, the stage lighting rig was similarly developed with performers in mind and evolved through discussions with production crews – weighing 260 tonnes, its size and circular form allow maximum flexibility.

The circulation spaces run around the perimeter of the performance bowl. Here, the façade is more transparent to draw in natural light, animating the building with the movement of people and exposing the dramatic structure that supports the tiers of seating within. The spaces are protected from solar gain by a frit pattern, applied to the ETFE cushions.

Foster + Partners worked with graphic designer, Per Arnoldi to devise a bold primary colour palette for the circulation spaces, and the cushioned seats were developed specifically for the project with the manufacturer.

Designed to reduce energy demands, the building combines natural and mechanical ventilation – fresh air is drawn into the building above the entrances, and vented at a high level. The SSE Hydro is integrated with the district-wide public transport and the surrounding landscaping provides a valuable new civic amenity – the building is set back from the river to frame a new public space between the arena and conference centre. In addition, a low concrete bank curves around the base of the arena, concealing catering and support spaces and providing an attractive green, landscaped plinth.

Arup was appointed by the SECC to provide civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, public health and fire engineering; as well as BREEAM assessor, transportation planning and specialist lighting services. Martin Surridge, Project Director at Arup said:

This is probably one of the most complex buildings ever constructed in Scotland but definitely one of the most rewarding. The SSE Hydro will provide Glasgow with an exciting new landmark and position Scotland at the forefront of the global events and entertainment industry. We’re proud to be part of the team that’s brought this landmark building to life.

The SSE Hydro comprises a 127 metre roof span, with its spiral form creating a shallow silver dome standing 45m at its highest point. During construction, Arup claimed, its roof erection sequence saved significant time and money, and minimised the time that the workforce spent working at height.

The building’s unique ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluroethylene) façade is made up of translucent cushions which allows natural light to illuminate the foyers during the day and the arena to ‘glow’ at night. Tom Doyle, Project Director for the SSE Hydro’s owners and operators, SECC, said:

The construction of The SSE Hydro’s distinctive roof and ETFE façade, lit by thousands of LED lights, are two of the key features of the building. They are prime examples of the innovative spirit and engineering expertise that the Arup team have consistently demonstrated over the many years they have been working on this project. We at the SECC are really proud that the building has achieved this milestone, are confident that The SSE Hydro will be a huge success and thank Arup for being at the centre of the building’s design and delivery.

Jonny Petrie, SSE Director of Commonwealth Games and Sponsorship, said:

We have been working with our fantastic partners at the SECC for a few years now and it’s great to see all the amazing work they have put in come to fruition. We are really excited about this partnership. The sponsorship is of a scale that we haven’t experienced before and we are looking forward to all the opportunities it will present and continuing our great relationship with the SECC for the benefit of our customers.