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Sometimes, a building that’s great for one thing isn’t quite as good for other functions. Just ask AECOM, who designed one of the most beautifully frustrating venues in the National Hockey League.

A brief history

Originally called AECOM Technology Corporation, this engineering and design firm was founded in 1990 after being spun off from a petroleum services company. Arena and stadium design is one of several things AECOM does, including logistics, planning, construction services, project management, architecture and design.

Major sports projects since 2005

  • NHL: Barclays Center (Brooklyn)
  • NBA: Spectrum Center (Charlotte), Golden 1 Center (Sacramento)

Barclays Center won Sports Business Journal’s 2013 Facility of the Year Award. Golden 1 Center won it in 2017.

General trends

AECOM’s designs are relatively simple compared to many of the other designers. Spectrum Center in Charlotte is fairly typical of their designs: a large, somewhat oblong lower bowl with boxes integrated, plus a slightly smaller upper bowl.

The New York Islanders have played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn since 2015. The venue has been hotly criticized by fans, to the point where the Islanders have started playing games at the old (but renovated) Nassau Coliseum while they wait for the Belmont Park Arena to be built. It’s a shame, because the venue is gorgeous and incredibly well-built.

There are two big issues with Barclays, both stemming from the fact that it wasn’t designed to be a hockey building. First, the ice sucks. Instead of using copper piping to carry the freezing water under the flooring, they used plastic PVC piping. The other issue is the slightly irregular shape of the designs – the bowl isn’t a full oval – leads to some issues with sightlines.

When the Isles moved to Barclays, Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski checked things out and was pretty blunt about what he didn’t like about the experience.

I have no idea what the hell I’m watching.

I’m sitting in the first row of Section 201, in Seat 26, as the New York Islanders host the Carolina Hurricanes on a Thursday night in October. It’s their seventh home game since moving from the dilapidated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale to the divisive Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and a small but engaged crowd is watching the action.

Or, in the case of the few fans gathered in Section 201, watching at least three-quarters of the action.

These seats were dubbed “the worst in American professional sports” by Business Insider, their view obstructed by the NHL-mandated safety netting, inexplicable advertising on that netting and the very architecture of the rink.

Like I said: I have no idea what the hell I’m watching. Because when the puck is anywhere near the Islanders’ goal crease or in back of the net, I can’t see it, the players or the play itself.

New York Magazine was a little bit more diplomatic, but also pretty negative:

Here’s the thing about watching a hockey game at Barclays Center: From most of the seats in the arena, the sightlines are fine. The east end of the arena wraps around the boards the way it would in any modern hockey arena, and clear views of the rink can be had on the north and south sides of the ice as well. The fact that the center-hung scoreboard hangs above one of the blue lines can be forgiven, because ultimately no one goes to a hockey game to watch a scoreboard. This asymmetrical arrangement is necessary because the arena was built with the smaller dimensions of a basketball court in mind. But the result is hundreds of seats on the west side of the arena with obstructed views.

The secret to building a good arena for hockey? Designing it with hockey in mind, or at least not in a way that makes it a challenge for hockey to played there. The Islanders have somewhat fleed Barclays for the hockey-friendly confines of the old Coliseum. The AHL’s Charlotte Checkers play at the Bojangles Coliseum rather than the Spectrum Center. Sacramento doesn’t have a hockey team.

AECOM has made some nice buildings, but their lack of a positive track record for hockey might make people nervous if they’re selected as the main designer of the new Calgary arena.


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