By Tim Newcomb
February 12, 2014

By Tim Newcomb

The shovels will soon start flipping dirt in Edmonton after city officials announced Feb. 11 a March date for the start of construction on a distinctive new arena for the Oilers, a building that is designed to mimic the look of a drop of oil.

Fitting for all of Alberta, no?

Scott Ralston, a designer for 360 Architecture, says that while he was struck by the natural beauty of Alberta and the speed and thrill of hockey, “you can’t ignore the presence of oil.” So he didn’t when he started designing team owner Daryl Katz a new home for the NHL team.

The 20,500-seat arena spills out beyond the seating area to include a “winter garden,” a multi-use climate-controlled public space outside that connects the new $480 million venue paid for by public and private funds to a new light rail terminal, a community rink, and local business opportunities. New renderings of the arena were unveiled, giving us "final designs" and updates on the old look (see below).

Inside the arena, Ralston says the design plays off old-school seating bowls and nostalgic designs that offered more intimate settings. “They are very inspiring, it puts everybody right on top of the ice and gives you great sightlines,” he says. As premium seating ballooned during the last few decades, seating began to stretch away from the ice and Ralston says with more than 9,000 people in the lower bowl, he wanted to get the largest population possible close to the ice.

But even for the fans higher up, the chance to catch the game from a catwalk will provide a fun first for an NHL arena.

To tie the interior of the arena to the exterior, 360 Architecture plans a glassed-in production area for television broadcasts that allows fans to gawk from the sidewalk. Keeping that theme going, Ralston says the design team wanted to stray far from making the new downtown Edmonton arena a “bunker,” instead using transparency and daylight through clear glass—the rest of the exterior is masonry and zinc—to give the arena some life.

The Oilers, who currently play in the 40-year old 16,800-seat Rexall Place northeast of downtown, expect to move into their new digs in 2016 and have promised to remain in Edmonton for at least the next 35 years. The oil should stick around that long, too.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

The old renderings:

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