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How Populous built the world’s first net-zero arena while preserving Seattle’s skyline

Climate Pledge Arena, designed by architecture firm Populous and opened in October, uses the iconic roof of the original arena that dates to the 1962 world’s fair.

How Populous built the world’s first net-zero arena while preserving Seattle’s skyline
[Illustration: Peter Oumasnki]

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Unveiled in October as the new home for the Seattle Kraken hockey team and the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, the $1.15 billion Climate Pledge Arena will be the first such structure to earn a net-zero carbon certification from the International Living Future Institute, which requires buildings to limit and offset all construction emissions and use only renewable energy. Architecture firm Populous designed the building—located on the 1962 world’s fair grounds in downtown Seattle—to incorporate both historical elements from the former KeyArena and green-building elements, such as rooftop solar panels and a cistern that recycles rainwater. The ambition behind the new facility is matched by its scale: At 740,000 square feet, it’s twice the size of its predecessor and is poised to take in some 2 million visitors each year. “We have shown that you can create a sustainable arena while preserving some of the original building,” says Populous lead designer Geoff Cheong. “It’s going to challenge a lot of developers [and] be a model for the future.” These six elements illustrate Populous’s innovative techniques:

1. Historic highlights

Populous preserved 44 million pounds of material from the original world’s fair site, including a landmark 1962 roof (that had to be “floated” while the new arena was constructed below), building columns, and a dramatic shingled-glass facade that floods the atrium with light. 

2. Preserved landscape

The firm went to painstaking lengths to preserve the 67 London plane trees that were planted for the world’s fair and now surround the arena, “from pruning the roots to applying root conditioner, so they wouldn’t be impacted,” Cheong says.

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3. The underground cistern

Rainwater is captured, filtered, and flowed into a 15,000-gallon cistern underground. It is then filtered again and used to fill electric Zambonis that resurface the hockey rink, creating what Cheong calls “the greenest ice in the NHL.”

4. A living wall

The arena’s upper concourse is on the street level, but the rest of the structure is subterranean. On one side of the concourse, a 200-foot-long wall holds some 8,500 plants, kept alive with LED grow lights powered by renewable energy. 

5. Solar panels

Placed on top of the main entrance and the parking garage across the street, solar panels will generate 570,000 kilowatt-hours every year, reducing annual emissions by 404 metric tons. Additional energy will come from various renewable sources.

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6. Transportation

The arena includes electric-vehicle charging stations, bike valets, and a link to a monorail from the city center. Populous designed a network of underground tunnels that allows service vehicles to access the arena’s loading docks without snarling up traffic around the arena.

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