Inside The Design Of The Penguins' New CONSOL Energy centre


Photo: Steven Ovadia

We’ve all wandered around an arena or stadium, imagining what we would change if we had the chance. Maybe it’s something as simple as the colours. Maybe it’s the bathroom location. Or maybe it’s the sight lines. Part of being a sports fan means feeling invested in where you watch the sport.I remember spending many an afternoon in Shea Stadium, wishing it didn’t look like a prison. When Citi Field opened, and actually used daylight as a design element, I felt like my prayers had finally been answered, like baseball had been reading my diary. 

Where Shea Stadium made me feel slightly hated by my team, Citi Field made me feel appreciated. That’s what good design can do.

Check out the design of Pittsburgh’s new arena >>

When the Penguins finally got their new arena built, it represented a chance for the organisation to re-imagine the home of both the Penguins and their fans. Christine Astorino of fathom, a research and design firm, coordinated the user experience for the new CONSOL Energy centre. Different teams worked on different pieces of the project, with fathom responsible for making sure the final concept made sense to everyone—especially to the fans.

For Astorino, a Pittsburgh native, quarterbacking the user experience of the CONSOL centre (think about her as Sergei Gonchar circa 2006, but with fabric samples instead of a booming slap shot) allowed her to reconnect with hockey: “I was a hockey fan. I used to go to games all the time in high school. I had gone to Penguins games here and there but this really got me so incredibly engaged.”

The process took years, including four months of user-centered research that involved interviews, both formal and informal, observations, and even sensory exploration, where fans were asked to describe what their new arena might taste or smell like.

Astorino also had access to retired players and the coaching staff. Sadly, she didn’t have access to current players, since the research took place during the season.

1. The Connection of Community

Although people within the Penguins organisation have talked about the potential of the new arena as a recruitment tool, it wasn't a design consideration.

Astorino's team felt an arena where fans wanted to be would also be an arena where players wanted to play.

'Pittsburgh is a great sports town, but what does that mean in terms of hockey?' Astorino said. 'How do you take a Penguins game and start to spread it out of the arena and into the community?'

2. The Purity of the Play

'There's this notion of how you feel at a hockey game versus a baseball game,' Astorino said. 'Hockey is unlike other sports. How do those differences come to the surface?'

Astorino discovered the Penguins' colours didn't necessarily need to be used to create an experience that reads hockey: 'You have woods present in sticks and circular motifs present in pucks. The contrast between the black of the puck and the white of the ice. The translucencies of the ice. All of these things started to generate a colour palette that became recognisable. The notion was that you don't have to be hit over the head with black and gold. It can be done subtly through great art.'

3. The Energy of the Experience

'When you think about the energy of the game experience, how do you create a ripple effect from the ice to stands?' Astorino said. 'One of our design insights was yellow banding around some of the levels of seats. You see this great contrast. It has this sort of radiating design seemingly coming up from the ice itself.'

Another aspect to the energy of the game experience was making sure the game can be seen and heard from all parts of the arena -- even when fans leave their seats.

Respecting the history of the team

Evaluating the response from fans

Pittsburgh is not the only town enjoying a new arena

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