Aug 7, 2020

A LEED Platinum design helped Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium create an artistic VIP experience without forgetting about the fans in the seats

By Katie Nale

On February 3, 2019, amongst hordes of screaming fans, two teams will run out onto a turf field in Atlanta to duke it out over the most prized title in football: Super Bowl champion. As the lights of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium shine down on the 53rd competition, spectators will watch the game beneath a massive halo screen 58-ft-high by 1,075-ft-long that surrounds the building’s retractable roof. “The team wanted to give the world a stadium that was ground breaking, and an experience beyond the expectation of both the fans and the community,” says Jay Wratten of WSP USA (Denver), the stadium’s principal lighting designer.

Officially opened for the 2017 season as the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, the 2 million-sq ft stadium boasts a first class experience in the VIP areas, which earned WSP USA a 2018 IES Illumination Award of Merit. “We had a drive to show the fans what a 21st century stadium looked like, felt like, sounded like and smelled like,” says Wratten. The space uses a layered approach including warmer color temperatures, custom and modified light fixtures, and a program to showcase work by local artists, emphasizing the stadium’s roots in the Atlanta community. Scenes programmed for various events (pregame, game, post-game) generate a full experience for fans and players, while also meeting the stadium’s energy goals. “We had to ask ourselves what the role of a sports stadium is in today’s more sustainable mindset,” says Wratten, whose lighting expertise helped the stadium become the first in the U.S. to achieve LEED Platinum.

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As fans walk through the entry portal to the VIP lobby, they are greeted by perimeter cove lighting and scattered glass pendants. Moving through the halls, linear coves on the walls and ceiling guide people to their destinations. The cove lighting continues within the VIP suites, as communal tables are highlighted by feature pendants. Custom fixtures are located in every suite and warmer color temperatures of around 3000K emphasize the area’s hospitality-like feel and highlight its richer textures and finishes. Outside of the suites, concession portals are also lit with cove lighting and various decorative pendants. Linear “sticks of light” highlight the halls of the concession area, reflecting the architectural geometry found throughout the stadium. A geometric structure is also found atop the Mercedes-Benz Club, with rectangular shapes illuminated to create a “feather ceiling” that directs one’s line of vision to the bar and the field beyond.

Throughout the stadium are a number of commissioned pieces from local artists that were inspired by Atlanta’s culture, community and sports. One piece in the VIP club consists of layered translucent fritting on large glass panes. It is illuminated from both sides using spot and floodlights. Working with each individual artist, Wratten and his team customized the ambient light levels for each piece to achieve every artist’s vision.


Outside of the VIP area, the “regular” fan is also treated to lighting flourishes. “We thought a lot about the experience of buying a regular ticket, going through security and then circulating through the concourses,” says Wratten. “We thought about where people will want to stop and take photos to post on social media. A large focus was placed on lighting public areas, making sure the lighting helps guide visitors around the stadium, that the restrooms are welcoming and the concourse bars felt like somewhere you would want to hang out.” Theatrical elements, such as roof lights that change color, also add to the atmosphere.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about the role of the stadium in the city,” says Wratten. “Through that process, we decided to uplight the roof so that from the perspective of a blimp, a tall building in the downtown area, or a departing flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, you know there’s an event from the glow, even if the roof is closed. Of course, it is not a coincidence that the shape of the Mercedes-Benz star is also silhouetted on the glowing roof.”


A unified network lighting control system deploys global lighting scenes for stadium events. Global modes can be activated at the press of a button and include settings for game days, non-game days, post-games, tours and clean-up. The settings help conserve energy by only lighting areas of the stadium as they are needed for a particular event. “If we have a tour going through, we didn’t program for turning on the sports lighting, because tours are typically done during the day. The VIP and team areas go on a certain mode, which doesn’t use as much energy as it would for a full-on event, but it allows tour guests to come in and get the experience of what the locker room is like, what a suite looks like; places people may only get to see during a tour,” says Wratten. In addition to programmed scenes, daylight harvesting in perimeter concourse areas and occupancy sensors for low-use areas like storage rooms balance energy consumption against the impact on fan experience.


Last, but not least, are the players. “We spent a lot of time on what the player experience is like,” says Wratten. “These players are expensive assets and their health and emotional well-being is key to the main event: their performance on the field.” The stadium is one of the first to incorporate LED sports lighting from the start of the design process, and the design team made several site visits to evaluate the performance, installation, maintenance and design opportunities of various manufacturers’ solutions. The final design includes individually addressable, color-tunable white fixtures with dedicated RGB fixtures for feature lighting. The lighting was finetuned during the 2017 season based on feedback from broadcast networks to increase vertical illuminance and allow broadcasters to reduce lens aperture and improve the quality of their image.

Off the field, the players reap the benefit of a locker room that uses dynamic white lighting to heighten the players’ alertness before games commence. Post-game, warmer color temperatures replace the cooler temperatures to help the players calm down and relax. That should be a tough assignment after Super Bowl LIII.


Katie Nale

Katie Nale