by Mrinmayee BhootSep 25, 2023
After four long decades away from the spotlight, ABBA, the Swedish musical quartet is returning to the stage with their revolutionary virtual tour ABBA Voyage, bridging the physical and digital in an immersive concert experience. For such a unique proposition, British practice Stufish Entertainment Architects has realised an equally innovative venue - the ABBA Arena - in East London, close to the Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. The arena has been envisioned as one of the city's top cultural destinations in the future, inviting intrigue and curiosity from passers-by with its hexagonal steel and timber form. The building is said to be the world's largest demountable structure and is set to relocate to a new site after completing its five-year tenure in the city.
Located at a strategic point along Pudding Mill Lane in East London, the ABBA Arena is surrounded by various cultural hubs along with an Olympic Park, neighbouring Hackney and Stratford - which was a key factor in the initial site selection process. The plot's proximity to public transportation makes its location far more accessible to concert-goers from all parts of the city, since, according to Stufish, a transport assessment indicated that 83 per cent of total visitors will travel to the arena primarily through public transport. From location to conceptualisation, assembly, and operation, every aspect of the project was devised to prioritise sustainable design and functional flexibility.
Ray Winkler, CEO of Stufish Entertainment Architects, talks about the structure in a press statement: "The ABBA Arena, a portable venue, will set the standard for future shows where the physical and the digital fuse to create a new genre of experience in the physical world." Providing a truly breathtaking spectacle for its audience, the completed 25.5m high structure has a capacity of 3000; seating 1650 and providing room for a standing audience of 1350, around a stage in the centre, which generates a 360-degree show experience inside a 70m column-free space. The bold hexagonal form of the venue is softened with the introduction of timber, representing some of the material sensibilities of Swedish architecture. Standing on concrete pads, the whole arena is unified under a semi-axisymmetric steel dome, which was assembled and lifted to a height of 25.5m - an impressive engineering feat, considering how it weighs in at 744 tonnes. The venue’s roofs and walls have been developed to meet acoustic design requirements and limit the adverse effects of noise from residential areas in the structure’s vicinity. The walls themselves have two independent layers of insulated panels to optimise the thermal and acoustical performance of the external envelope. The internal structure is independent of this external form, built of mass timber to form the seating rakes and accommodate vertical circulation.
Auxiliary spaces in the ABBA Arena include an open front-of-house concourse in the form of a modular hybrid glulam-steel canopy built by Stage One, alongside various CLT modules for food and beverage counters, in addition to retail areas, VIP lounges, and cloakroom spaces. Furthermore, the back-of-house services are prefabricated, permitting disassembly and relocation in the future. All the structural elements and details are designed to be easily reconfigured in new locations, in honouring the building's title as the world’s largest demountable temporary entertainment venue. Contrasting all the high-tech interior spaces, the external form comprises a lightweight bolted steel structure, fully clad with a porous screen of timber battens, emblazoned with coloured LED strip lights that integrate a huge version of the ABBA logo onto the facade design. Alicia Tkacz, a partner at the firm, says, “This unique project provided the perfect blend of architecture and entertainment, allowing us to create an amazing immersive experience for the audience that has never been seen before."
Striving to serve its audience with a new immersive experience that has never been seen before, the ABBA Arena’s design responds to its context while hosting open interior spaces that engage and welcome visitors. Steel and timber have been successfully integrated in a hybrid configuration to enhance the demountable nature of the venue. In essence, this ambitious endeavour is a testament to Stufish’s penchant for designing immersive, temporary spaces, as seen in their earlier work on the LEAPscape kaleidoscope in Saudi Arabia. The firm's integration of revolutionary architecture with entertainment to create inspirational, memorable, and new experiences for audiences and users has also been seen earlier in landmark set designs for major musical artists from the Rolling Stones' SIXTY tour, to Beyoncé and Jay-Z's On The Run II series of concerts, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics 2008, the Asian Games 2010, and now, finally, in the much anticipated ABBA Arena.
Name: ABBA Arena
Location: London, United Kingdom
Year of Completion: 2022
Architect: Stufish Entertainment Architects
Structural Engineer: Atelier One
M&E Consultant: Atelier Ten
QS: Gardiner & Theobald
Landscape Consultant: Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects Ltd
Acoustic Consultant: Charcoalblue
Project Manager Gardiner & Theobald
Principal Designer Gardiner & Theobald
Planning Consultant: Quod
Transport Planning Consultant: i-Transport
Main Contractor: ES Global
(Text by Rashi Karkoon, intern at STIRworld)