Now home to the NHL’s New York Islanders, UBS Arena is a 745,000-square-foot, 17,250-seat hockey and entertainment facility in Elmont, NY. Opened on November 20, 2021, the arena is “built for hockey and made for music” — delivering fans some of the best sightlines in professional hockey in a space meant for hockey, not adapted to it, as the Islanders’ previous homes were.
As architect of record, global design firm Populous worked with the New York Arena Partners (the ownership group made up of Oak View Group (OVG), Sterling Project Development and the New York Islanders) to establish the arena’s design vision, directed at the creation of a hockey-specific arena while also being a premier music and entertainment venue. Populous developed the arena’s overall layout, seating bowl, location of the suites and clubs, event level spaces, as well as documenting and overseeing design of all interior spaces, some in collaboration with Jump Studios (a Populous company) and Good,Rich. Populous was also instrumental in creating one of the largest enclosed marshalling yards in the industry. The building’s exterior was designed by JRDV Urban Architecture.
“UBS Arena represents the future of the event venue industry and will be one of the top arenas for hockey and entertainment in the country,” said Jason Carmello, Populous principal. “Populous worked thoughtfully with Oak View Group, the New York Islanders and the entire design team to deliver a first-class arena that is built for hockey, but will set a new standard as a must-play destination for all forms of touring entertainment.”
“With UBS Arena, we partnered with Populous to build an arena that is made for music and built for hockey,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group. “A massive advantage in designing UBS with Populous was the ability to design from scratch as we weren’t constrained by any existing infrastructure. We were gifted an amazing opportunity to take the plans and build it the right way, from the load-in and load-out of the truck dock, to artists’ dressing rooms. I am very confident that UBS Arena will quickly become the venue that all future arenas will be measured against.”
Built For Hockey, Made For Music
At UBS Arena, Populous created hockey-specific sightlines for Islanders fans by strategically designing the seating bowl to be pushed in toward the ice further than a standard basketball-first arena. The facility features the largest arena scoreboard in New York state, along with two levels of high-resolution LED ribbon boards and state-of-the-art sound systems that leverage world-class acoustics to amplify the audio experience. Other cutting-edge technology — ice mapping and projection systems and 12 all-player tracking cameras — align with the latest NHL standards.
A standout feature of UBS Arena is its superior acoustics. Populous worked with acoustical design consultant Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams (WJHW) to implement several architectural elements that limit reverberation time and echoes. These elements include the use of absorptive materials on vertical surfaces to soak up the sound. Additionally, unlike the hard plastic seating common in stadiums and ballparks, UBS Arena features upholstered seating, which is more comfortable, but also helps the arena sound as it would at full capacity, even during sound checks and reduced-capacity events.
Sound absorbing baffles (sound barriers) are suspended horizontally below the structural roof deck, helping to improve their low frequency (bass) performance. Additionally, a specialized baffle and ceiling configuration called a “bass trap” has been created in the ceiling bowl within the depth of the roof structure to produce exceptionally low frequency sound and absorption. This is formed with the press box ceiling and vertical baffles to create a large sound-absorbing void in the upper corner of the arena where the seating and roof meet.
Interior Finishes, Amenities Elevate Experiences
While designed with hockey in mind, UBS Arena serves to make the concertgoer feel just as special as the hockey fan. To achieve this vision, all the finishes in the arena are upscaled. The concourses feature artisan white subway tile to brighten the space, wood paneling along with up-lighting that circles the concourse and high-end light fixtures radiating theatrical lighting to promote a premium entertainment experience. Large LED screens and TVs placed throughout the arena ensure that fans are never far from the game or concert.
Populous’ Brand Activation group developed and worked with ownership on the overall site and building navigational strategy, and designed and developed the storytelling for UBS Arena. The team also completed the building wayfinding package and oversaw the fabrication and install. Additionally, Populous carried out all branding for arena-wide concessions, clubs, and suites. The site and wayfinding signage, a design element Populous created from scratch, takes inspiration from the heritage and placemaking of historic Belmont Park, mixed with New York City’s Central Park theme.
There are several dedicated areas for fans, specifically the famed “Section 329” Islanders supporters section with 180 safe standing capabilities. The new safe standing space is dedicated to the Blue and Orange Army fan club that previously occupied Section 329 of Nassau Coliseum. Though it is on the 200 level of UBS Arena, its location and sightlines are situated so fans have almost the same placement as the original Section 329.
Populous’ design includes 10 bars that open directly into the bowl. Situated at the top of the arena’s main staircase, the Heineken Red Star Bar is the first space a visitor sees upon arrival and provides a wide view into the bowl. Additionally, the Tailgate Bar on the north upper concourse (shown above), featuring a 100-foot-long bar, is connected to Section 329.
The main concourse level contains the Hyundai Club, a space decked out in Islanders swag while tastefully tying in Hyundai’s brand identity.
At ground level, Populous employed its design-led design build service offering for Belmont Hall featuring The Harrison restaurant, working with Shawmut Design + Construction. The team worked with a New York City local sign painter, a Kansas City-based textile designer, an Ireland-based found-object curator, and a New York restauranteur to create an Islanders-focused dining space.
On event level, four Crown Suites offer fans up-close visual access to the home and visitor teams as they come on and off the ice. Each player tunnel has two Crown Suites on either side, with walls of one-way glass. Though club patrons can see the players on either side, the players cannot see into the Crown Suites through to the opposing team’s tunnel.
The arena also houses 38 suites above the main concourse level, with the main concourse club below those suites. Other fan amenities include a 900-square-foot speakeasy situated off the main concourse.
A “Star Compound” And Other Dynamic Interior Spaces
Populous worked on the design of various interior spaces on the event level at UBS Arena, including the “star compound” for visiting artists, campuses for the home and visiting teams, a green room, artist lounge and family lounge. These efforts led to the development of design concepts specific to each area, sourcing materials, fixtures, finishes and furniture, creating the layout and implementing interior design and branding.
While the arena was designed primarily as a hockey arena, several elements allow flexibility for concerts and other entertainment. The “star compound” is designed around artists and includes four dressing areas that wrap around a star lounge. The compound is outfitted in wood and tile flooring, custom area rugs and stone slab backsplashes at the induction buffets.
Operational Efficiency For Staff, Talent
At 60,000 square feet, UBS Arena has one of the largest marshalling yards in the industry, a major draw for performers and their teams. Covered, enclosed and heated, the below-grade marshalling yard provides ample power and data connections for more than 10 trailers, as well as seven loading docks offering direct ramp access to the arena floor. A 400,000-pound rigging grid can support 300,000 pounds of equipment for an end stage or center stage setup. These elements fulfill the vision to make UBS Arena one of the most accessible load-in/load-out sequences in the marketplace.
An industry first, the interior mezzanine catwalk above the event-level premium spaces is an innovative solution for day-to-day operations as it offers direct access to all utilities that serve the premium spaces from above, including Wi-Fi, gas and electric. This prevents temporary closures of premium spaces, or damage to ceilings, walls and other infrastructure, during possible repairs. There is also direct freight elevator access from the arena floor to the catwalk for continued ease of event operations.