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Sacramento Kings Arena Will Assimilate with City

Exterior rendering of the new Entertainment and Sports Center, which displays operable aircraft hangar doors
Planned for downtown Sacramento, California, the new Entertainment and Sports Center’s operable aircraft hangar doors will allow the sounds of events inside to drift out onto the front plaza. © Sacramento Kings

Located in the heart of downtown Sacramento, a new arena is designed to enliven the surrounding cityscape and engage residents.

March 4, 2014—The architects of a new 650,000 sq ft multipurpose arena planned for downtown Sacramento, California, were challenged with integrating the building into the existing urban context and making it approachable to people walking along the surrounding streets. To that end, the arena will feature several innovative architectural elements—including an undulating facade and aircraft hangar doors—that are designed to bring the enormous structure down to an inviting human scale.

The Entertainment and Sports Center, as the arena is currently known, will primarily serve as the new home of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Sacramento Kings but will also host concerts, performances, and other events. The approximately 17,000-seat arena will have a flexible design so that a smaller number of seats can be used for more intimate events. “Basketball games will take place here, say, 50 times a year, but this building will be here 365 days a year,” says Rob Rothblatt, AIA, LEED-AP, a design principal of AECOM, a global design and engineering firm headquartered in Los Angeles. “The clients want to open the arena up to the public for all sorts of uses.”

The owners of the Sacramento Kings, with input from the city of Sacramento—which will own the arena—established an international design competition for the project in 2013. They wanted an arena design that would provide an unprecedented fan experience, relate to the milieu of Sacramento, and spur additional development in the city’s downtown. As a result of the competition, the clients selected AECOM as the lead architect on the project. The structural engineer is Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., an international engineering firm headquartered in New York City, and the project manager is ICON Venue Group, an owner’s representative firm in the sports and entertainment industry headquartered in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

AECOM and the clients hosted several town hall meetings, workshops, and focus groups and collected more than 20,000 surveys to learn what Sacramento residents desired in the new arena. AECOM developed the design on the basis of that feedback, and the clients released the first renderings of the arena in January. “When we bought the Sacramento Kings, we committed to the NBA and to the people of Sacramento that we wouldn’t just build a new arena, but that we’d build a world-class entertainment venue, an arena truly for the twenty-first century,” said Kings owner Vivek Ranadive in a press release from AECOM. The Sacramento Kings currently play at the Sleep Train Arena in the outskirts of downtown Sacramento. 

Rendering for one of the arena's multiple balconies and windows that will tie the structure to the surrounding cityscape

The arena’s multiple balconies and windows will tie the structure
to the surrounding cityscape. © Sacramento Kings

The new arena will be constructed in the heart of the city, between Fourth, Seventh, J, and L streets, on a site that is currently occupied by a portion of Sacramento Downtown Plaza, a failing outdoor shopping mall. The arena is expected to help revive the area, retail shops in its lower level sparking a renaissance along L Street. “This area has been economically depleted for some time,” Rothblatt explains. “They’re going to try to rejuvenate one half of the mall, but the other half will become this arena, and the idea is to use this arena, just as has been done in Los Angeles and Denver and other cities, to be a be a catalyst for development around it.”

The arena will be asymmetrical, but generally round, in shape. The Sacramento Kings practice facility will be attached to the eastern side, windows looking in from the arena proper onto the practice court. The arena’s main event floor will be sunk into the ground—32 ft below the main concourse—and the rest of the arena will unfold from there. Guests will pass through traditional vomitories as they enter the upper seating bowl, but at the lower level guests will enter directly from the concourse at the top. That concourse will be open to the event area and will afford unobstructed views to the event floor because the concessions and other amenities will be located toward the arena’s perimeter rather than under the seats. Many of the concessions will offer locally grown food, in keeping with Sacramento’s “Farm-to-Fork” movement, a program that promotes locally grown food at restaurants and events in the city. “Given the sustainability interest and the agricultural richness of this area, this farm-to-fork [initiative] is going to be front and center in this arena,” Rothblatt says.  

Unlike the insular arenas of the 1970s and ’80s, this arena is designed to interact with the surrounding streetscape. The first 10 ft of the building’s facade will be vegetated. Above that, the building will be clad in precast concrete and aluminum panels, which will undulate up and down the building vertically. At the points at which the panels bow outward, windows and balconies will allow people to see out of and into the building. Nearly all of the aluminum panels and windows will be adorned with ceramic fritting in a tree motif—a nod to the fact that Sacramento is known as the “City of Trees” for having more trees per capita than any other city in the world. “It’s very typical for these kinds of arenas when they are in suburban locations to be big, sealed boxes; they’re very introverted and often don’t have windows,” Rothblatt says. “But when you’re in an urban location, you want to engage the city, and you want people to see outside from within the building and have that interaction with the environment.”

Interior rendering of sports center, displaying a concert being held

The flexible design of the facility will accommodate more intimate
events that do not require all of the available 17,000 seats.
© Sacramento Kings

Inspired by the peaks and valleys of the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, the undulating facade will tie the arena to the surrounding landscape while also making the building seem less immense. The undulations will be spaced every 20 ft up the building, forming five horizontal striations across the structure. “We wanted to really promote interaction between people and the arena, and in order to do that you have to understand the height and size of a human,” Rothblatt explains. “We have five horizontal striations that visually reduce the size of the building, and when you see a window, we break the scale down even more with mullions. So this really large building comes down to a recognizable human scale.”

Five aircraft hangar doors located above the arena’s main entrance will further connect the building to its surroundings. The bifold glass doors will be operable to take advantage of Sacramento’s favorable climate and enliven the arena’s front plaza with the sounds of events taking place inside. “The idea is that on a nice day these things can be raised up, and the whole space will be open,” Rothblatt says. “It’s one of the signature pieces of the design; it’s both a symbolic and actual connection of the arena to the city.” Just inside the aircraft hangar doors, a large bridge at the upper concourse level will serve as a hybrid terrace. The bridge will be fully exposed to the exterior plaza when the bifold doors are opened, allowing guests to look out over the immediate area.

The project’s schematic design has been completed, and the team is moving into design development. Demolition of the existing mall facilities on the site is expected to begin in the summer, and construction could commence as early as the fall. The project should be completed by the end of 2016, at which time the arena is expected to draw people downtown for not only Sacramento Kings games and shows but also dining, shopping, and other activities. “The hope is that this new arena will really catalyze and energize the downtown, that it becomes an integral part of the life of the city,” Rothblatt says.


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