Healing a ceiling: Turning to an unexpected element in redesigning an aging sports arena

The result of approximately four years of planning and construction at Uniondale, New York’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is a modern, airy, and inviting space.
The result of approximately four years of planning and construction at Uniondale, New York’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is a modern, airy, and inviting space.

Looking up

San Francisco design firm, Gensler, led Nassau Coliseum’s interior renovation, with the goal of creating an iconic new look that relied on the integrity of the building’s existing infrastructure, respected its rich history as a destination for a diverse array of large-scale events, and offered attendees a more modern environment whether they are singing along to Billy Joel, watching two teams face off, or networking at a business convention.

For Nassau Coliseum attendees, a large part of the experience is the activity occurring on the venue’s concourse—the retail environment running around the perimeter of the interior bowl. Designers sought to declutter and open up that area with a cleaner, more organized visual flow, all while working within the building’s existing footprint. That meant incorporating clear, high-performance glass around the perimeter allowing natural light to penetrate the arena’s outer ring, more open vomitoria acting as connections from concourse to bowl, and one of the marquee features of the new concourse: a custom ceiling design adding a lively sense of motion and energy overhead.

The changing peak heights of the beams create a wave-like effect to bring visual movement to the space.
The changing peak heights of the beams create a wave-like effect to bring visual movement to the space.

The ceiling is a feat of both design and engineering. It is a structure of peaked rafters suspended by aircraft cable from the plenum above and soffits on either side, hanging at gradually varying heights and apexes. The gradually increasing angles of the beams create a ‘ridge line’ that moves from side to side, giving the ceiling an undulating, wave-like effect. That visual energy also comes with a purpose—it is a subtle wayfinding cue helping point attendees directionally around the concourse.

“The rafters had different compound cuts and angles allowing them to angle back and forth,” explained Hunter Pope, architectural sales manager for the manufacturer of the concourse ceiling components. “This allows you to follow the ridge line around the space and guides where you walk.”

The rafters are constructed of large, lightweight extruded aluminum beams powder coated with a wood-grain finish to look like actual timbers. While being light enough to support with aircraft cable, they also offer the full-finish look of wood to give the ceiling an atmosphere of warmth, particularly when illuminated by the soft recessed accent lighting in the soffits.

The ceiling’s look also offers a visual counterpoint to the building’s exterior. An intricate system of approximately 4700 aluminum ‘fins’ bent at gradually increasing angles presents a metallic wave effect surrounding Nassau Coliseum’s exterior. Once inside, coliseum visitors get a subtle continuation of that flowing design theme via the concourse ceiling.

The coliseum’s old, off-white stucco ceiling was more of a functional component than a design statement. While it lacked aesthetic appeal before the redesign, it became a critical piece of the visual field in the new version: the original ceiling is pitched at an extreme angle from the center outward and is still visible above the new ceiling’s rafters, working in visual tandem with the side-to-side ‘movement’ of the beams. It also serves as the plenum from which the new rafters are suspended.

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