Coca-Cola Arena architectural warp and weft


Gary Reeves on Coliseum MENA Image: Populous & Coca-Cola Arena

Gary Reeves who is in the role of Senior Principal, Populous, takes on projects from inception to completion. A gifted architect, he was part of the team which designed the world’s most successful arena – the 20,000-capacity The O2 Arena in London (UK).

He is now using his experience to research and develop alternative methods for arena flexibility, operational optimization married with the innovative ways to improve the customer experience.

Populous – the very name of the design studio is enough to conjure up images of sleek stadiums. The celebrated design firm has given shape to some of the most chic and sleek sports venues in the world.

Populous is a global architectural and design practice specializing in sports facilities, arenas and convention centers, as well as the planning and design of major special events. It is one of the largest architecture firms in the world.

The jaw-dropping design skills of Populous get reflected in their masterpiece – the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, UAE, which opened its doors in June 2019.

With a capacity of 17,000, the Coca-Cola Arena is the largest multipurpose indoor arena in the Middle East region. The arena is situated in City Walk, one of Dubai’s most vibrant urban lifestyle neighborhoods, surrounded by restaurants, shops and entertainment facilities.

Gary Reeves shares in an exclusive with ‘Coliseum’ the architectural ABC of ASM Global-run Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai.

Populous statistics

  • Eighty-five arenas delivered by Populous;
  • Thirty-five active arena projects globally;
  • First Breeam outstanding UK venue;
  • The O2 Arena is the world’s most popular arena with 25 million tickets sold; and
  • The Philippine Arena is the world’s largest indoor arena with a capacity of over 50,000

And all these arenas have the Populous tag to it.

The story of Coca-Cola Arena

Gary Reeves narrated how in 2015, the owner of Coca-Cola Arena Meraas approached Populous to design an arena in Dubai and “We looked at few sites and finally in 2016 we zeroed in on the Downtown site and it was an inspired choice.”

Populous was commissioned to undertake the concept design for the arena and throughout the design-and-build contract the great contractors ASGC completed the construction.

Coca Cola Arena location

The arena sits in Dubai Downtown and the City Walk which is a “great” location.

Stated Reeves, “From a design perspective, we wanted the arena to be the focal point on the end of the vista from the City Walk. So we aligned it on the side centrally so that it plays to the end of the view.”

He added, “From an architectural perspective, we wanted to carry a recognizable architectural form and the City Walk Development acted as a landmark until the two buildings to the East of the site. We went through a process of parametric design to test out different façade options to find the most efficient way to erect the building.”

Façade facts

Sharing more architectural details, he said, “We picked up the diagonal mullions and completely played down the vertical mullions on the side trying to give the building a dynamic feel – that twists and turns as the arena curves around. And this was reinforced with the panels which allowed us to break down the façade of the arena and allowing for glazed front end and then allowing us to make it more solid at the back where we need acoustic protection. The final part of the façade is the 4,600 color-changing LEDs which we carefully integrated into the diagonal elements of the façade to allow either simple color washing and also allowed it to be programed dynamically to create patterns across the façade and act as a beacon to draw people towards the building.”

Reeve shared, “At Populous, we are of the firm belief that a good arena must function efficiently and operate seamlessly as a machine to be a success. It also has to deliver flexibility and welcome as many types of events as possible as now and in the future.”

Coca-Cola Arena configurations

  • End stage concert;
  • Standing concert;
  • Center stage concert;
  • Basketball;
  • International shows;
  • Ice hockey;
  • Awards; and
  • Gymnastics.


Design challenges

Reeves stated that one of the greatest design challenges they face with most of the arenas is that the above elements contradict each other. But, with ASM Global running the show of Coca-Cola Arena, the whole process got streamlined.

Tier factor

The sleek arena boasts a 360 degree lower tier which is great for sports which means that the events are completely surrounded by spectators. Populous has also created a horse shoe upper tier and has created the Dyna View which helps maximize revenue earnings too.

Further sharing architectural details, Reeves continued, “The arena is designed with a huge rigging capacity of 180 tunnels. And it is fully accessible from the entire arena floor. It allows complete flexibility for different event configurations – even the largest international touring acts. The arena can also be scaled back to full.”

Organisation of the building

He further shared, “We always try to create the best possible experience with innovative hospitality in the venues we design. This is not only to give spectators a better experience, it is also to drive better revenue for our clients and Coca-Cola Arena is no different in this respect. The arena is set over five levels with general admissions entering centrally – the Level 1 concourse with access to the lower tier or they can continue up to Level 4 and access the upper tier. The concourse boasts 35 food and beverage outlets and in the building giving the customers a great choice.”

VIP zone

  • Eight VIP and VVIP office for around 1,700 guests split over to the VIP levels situated in the center of the arena on Level 2 and Level 3;
  • Forty-two suites;
  • Four lounges; and
  • Two premier lounges with great views over the plaza.


Shift and trends

Reeve further shared that since they wrapped up the work of the Coca-Cola Arena, they have seen some shifts and trends in the marketplace.

The four key areas:

  • Customer choice and experience;
  • Sustainability a hot button topic;
  • Esports; and
  • Health and well-being.

Reeve stated that customers have become much more demanding and fans come to the arena not just to buy a ticket and be content hanging out in the concourse, but the fan of today wants to make his or her stadium visit “memorable”.

Fans are no longer satisfied just watching 90 minutes of the game and heading back home, they want to spend long hours in the venue and “look for more offers and premium facilities within the stadium”.

To drive home his point, he stated that fans today do not have that craze for suites but look forward to a “shared experience”.

Reeves stated that Populous did its homework well for which they have added a lot of premium facilities in the Coca-Cola Arena – “One of the other things we are testing out and trying from a design perspective is looking at how we deal with concessions and having those different offers in our venues and for this we are designing spaces – the concession strategy to digital signage like the food offer can be changed depending on the event. So, this offers the customer a better choice and also helps drive better revenue.”

Populous has lent such a well-crafted design to the Coca-Cola Arena that it stands out as a crowning glory on the UAE skyline.

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