First Direct Arena

    Leeds, England, United Kingdom

    Photo Credits: Giles Rocholl

    Architectural wonder can serve many purposes

    The Leeds First Direct Arena, a multi-purpose venue that seats 13,500 people, has been at the forefront of innovation since it opened its doors to the public in September 2013. In addition to its vibrant program offerings — the venue hosts over 140 diverse events annually — the arena's cutting-edge design has become a source of pride in Leeds. Designed by Populous London, the arena is the first in the United Kingdom to feature super-theater "bowl" seating. Traditional arena seating creates an unwieldy oval around an ice hockey rink, but in First Direct Arena, rows of seats sweep outwards from the stage, rendering it an easy-to-see focal point. The unique layout also positions spectators much closer to the stage than typical bowl seating, offering breathtaking vantage points to virtually all audience members.

    To transform the distinctive honeycomb façade into a colorful city icon, Arup lighting specified an LED lighting solution from Color Kinetics.

    Arup's primary goal for the exterior installation was to enliven the massive dome at night, creating a "kaleidoscope of color" that could reinvent the theater for each event. Only LED luminaires from Color Kinetics could deliver this standard and meet the operator SMG's stringent sustainability requirements: the entire arena was designed to achieve a "Very Good" BREEAM rating — a design and assessment method for sustainable buildings. "We considered color-changing products from four lighting manufacturers, but the Color Kinetics fixtures were the only ones that met all of the criteria," said Jason McDaid, Project Director with Rotary Yorkshire, the company commissioned to design and implement the arena's mechanical and electrical services.

    To infuse the honeycomb façade with rich color, 270 ColorGraze Powercore luminaires (now specified with ColorGraze IntelliHue Powercore) in 914 mm (3 ft) and 1.2 m (4 ft) lengths were installed, working around the façade's angles and unique mesh components to create striking, dynamic displays. The installation is controlled with two Pharos LPC4 controller, which venue operators can easily access either on-site or remotely through an Internet-based control interface. The comprehensive solution allows SMG to create and trigger a limitless array of lighting scenes. Favorite effects include a rippling rainbow pattern, a sweep of shifting color across a solid background, and pulsing, deepening color segments.

    LITE worked closely with the SMG team to deliver the lighting controls and completed in-house training to allow full handover of the lighting system from day one. LITE also assisted in a number of large scale mock-ups and demonstrations to meet the client and design team's expectations, while remaining within the financial budget.

    Tony Watson, the SMG sales and marketing manager, stated that the "innovative lighting system at the First Direct Arena allows us to create a truly unique atmosphere from the first moment a customer sees the arena from any approach. The lighting solution is highly programmable, highly flexible, and it's already helped make the building iconic."

    With a spectacular exterior lighting display to beckon patrons to the venue, the arena has quickly become a landmark. The lighting world has also taken notice of its ground-breaking lighting design: the arena was shortlisted for a 2013 Lux Award, bestowed on the most innovative and sustainable UK lighting projects of the year.
    Project credits


    Populous London



    BAM Construction Leeds


    Certified System Integrator:

    LITE, Ltd.

    Lighting Concept:

    Arup Lighting

    Electrical Contractor/Installer:

    Rotary Yorkshire

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