Dec 6, 2021
A programmable façade merging light and video welcomes fans to a new arena in Cincinnati

By Paul Tarricone

Soccer inside and sticks outside. That’s the play at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, where thousands of illuminated sticks line the building’s exterior and celebrate the city. Home to the professional soccer team FC Cincinnati, the stadium—which opened earlier this year at a cost of $250 million—connects two historic neighborhoods in the downtown area.

With design by architect Populous, the team is marketing the 26,000-seat venue as an “ambassador to the Queen City.” And every ambassador needs to make a good first impression. That starts with the façade, which takes on a different appearance during the day and at night. The stadium is wrapped by over 500 vertically oriented aluminum fins. By day, the fins create the stadium’s signature form: a singular twisting motion that signifies the tension between two teams about to take the pitch. When viewed straight on, they provide a glimpse into TQL Stadium, fostering a heightened sense of anticipation for the upcoming match.

By night, the exterior comes alive through a brilliant dynamic video display system that highlights the club’s brand and provides match-day messaging to energize fans on their approach to the stadium. The height and orientation of the venue were designed to minimize shadows cast on the surrounding neighborhood, while the façade primarily faces east to respect nearby residents to the west.

The façade illumination/video display is produced by more than 8,000 sticks totaling 2.6 miles (the V Stick S product from manufacturer SACO), making TQL the first stadium in the world to deploy the technology. The sticks are integrated within 287 of the architectural fins. Every pixel of the V-Stick S can be individually controlled and synchronized, enabling all elements to work together seamlessly via a video processor control system. Both passive and active lighting effects can be created. Jonathan Labbee, co-CEO of SACO, describes the approach as “freestyle video technology that provides the architect and client with the ability to explore beautiful designs with fewer constraints.”

Behind the bells and whistles of the dynamic façade is a highly engineered structural solution. The fins—designed with space allocation for cable management and easy access for maintenance—provide the framework for the LED sticks. Buro Happold, in its role as structural engineer, developed a structural concept for the steel skeleton that supports the aluminum fins from behind. This system had to be “easily constructible yet minimally intrusive on the façade aesthetic,” says Phil Skellorn, associate principal with Buro Happold in Los Angeles.

Skellorn adds that the façade package was on a different schedule path than the primary stadium structure. “This meant we had to develop the façade concept to a level of detail where we could accurately account for the imposed loads on the primary steelwork, allowing us to control any design contingencies while ensuring the primary structure remained on schedule.

“The concept was documented in a ‘design book’ that outlined the support system requirements, ensuring the contractor’s design remained in compliance with the original design assumptions, avoiding any major impacts on the primary steelwork once the façade system was ready for install. The stadium stands as a testament to how structural design and illumination engineering are intrinsically tied together to foster an atmosphere of excitement for the team, the FC Cincinnati community, and the city and region as a whole.”

SACO’s Labbee sums it up succinctly: “We are honored that the team, owner and architects have entrusted SACO with their nighttime identity. This stadium is gonna rock.”


Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone has more 25 years of experience in association and business-to-business publishing, specializing in the engineering, design, construction and facilities management markets. Mr. Tarricone currently serves as Editor and Publisher of Lighting Design + Application,... More info »