Designing a world-class arena with Grimshaw

YTL Arena Bristol is working with renowned architects Grimshaw to create a world-class arena for the South West, bringing the very best of live music, sport and comedy to the region.

Steven Kennedy

Grimshaw’s impressive portfolio includes the iconic Eden Project here in the South West, the upgrade of the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, and the newly completed Elizabeth line in London. Leading the YTL Arena project for Grimshaw is Steven Kennedy, Principal Architect, who has been with the practice for 12 years.

“My role as Principal in the practice is to lead projects by directing, motivating and innovating within multi-disciplinary teams to achieve inspiring outcomes that anchor the building user at their heart,” said Steven. Grimshaw has designed YTL Arena’s bowl to ensure, no matter what the capacity, the audience will always feel immersed in an electric atmosphere.

“We want the artists to be immersed in a sea of faces as they look out from the stage. This experience is predominantly thanks to the lower tier design, which minimises intrusions and gaps within the seating bowl to promote an intense atmosphere and add to the crowd's energy, intensifying the experience for both the artists and the fans,” said Steven.

YTL Arena Centre Stage

The quality of the experience is measured using design tools like VR and AR, meaning that Steven and the team can test out the design for themselves.

“We are pushing this technology to link the visual and audio experience with our friends at Vanguardia. We can replicate the exact full panoramic view and audio experience for every individual seat in the bowl,” said Steven.

“The industry standard is to measure sightlines to ensure the best possible view from your seat, and angle from your seat to the stage, which in different configuration modes can move and alter your experience of the event. These varied modes allow us to optimise the design, but the true measure of experience of this venue will come from the people of Bristol adopting this venue as their own.”

YTL Arena Side View

However, although ensuring guests have the best quality experience from every seat is of the upmost importance, for Steven, it’s all about being front and centre.

“I'm not one for a seat at a gig, it’s always going to be on the event floor for me… well, until my knees give way. When they do, I'd still want to be as close to the action as possible, so I would have to be in one of the wings of the lower bowl in the sea of faces.”

While live music will make up the majority of events at the Arena, the unique bowl has been designed to accommodate a diverse range of events including, sports, comedy and family shows.

“The bowl design can accommodate a wide range of uses, including concerts, sporting events and entertainment shows. The retractable lower tier allows the size of the arena floor to be tuned according to the event type,” said Steven.

“For example, a full capacity gig would have the maximum capacity flat floor with no retractable seating deployed, whereas a tennis tournament would see all ten rows of retractable seating deployed on all three permanent sides of the bowl, with a fourth side of temporary retractables also deployed to form a full 360-degree bowl. For much smaller music events, comedy performances, or theatre productions, capacity reduction drapes can be deployed to help maintain a more intimate atmosphere.”

YTL’s mission is to create memorable experiences for all guests, so it was imperative that the seating bowl was designed with inclusivity at the core.

“For us, it’s imperative that people with accessibility requirements can access all areas and ticket types within the bowl and in all capacity reduction modes. We also recognise that there is a broad range of accessibility needs, and so we are providing amenity seating in addition to the accessible viewing platforms. These seats will provide additional legroom and easy access in locations with no or minimal stepped access,” said Steven.

“This level of provision is remarkable, and we believe this would place the YTL arena at the forefront of accessible entertainment and sporting venues in the UK and worldwide.”

YTL Arena Bowl

The Arena sits in the centre of the Brabazon Hangars, three interlinking assembly halls once home to all ten UK Concordes, and the venue has been designed to pay homage to this industrial heritage.

“The Engine Room of the Arena, the seating bowl, is inserted into the existing Central Hangar, allowing us to adapt and reuse the existing main structure in its entirety,” said Steven.

“The best way to appreciate the existing structure is either in the main concourse lobby on entry to the building from the bridge, or in either wing bars that get you up close to the existing interlocking columns, with views into the East and West Hangars.”

YTL Arena Lobby

Having worked on the project so closely, Steven knows what he is most looking forward to.

“Several aspects of this project are hugely exciting, but honestly, I think the most exciting thing will be opening night. The thought of standing in Runway Bar, soaking up the atmosphere of Bristol's new 'Machine for Entertainment' before whoever is chosen to open the new building takes to stage, surrounded by the people who have dedicated themselves to its journey, that's an exciting prospect!”

For priority access to the latest news, exclusive competitions and exciting events, sign up to our Fan Club here.

To find out more about Grimshaw, visit