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Colossal Coliseum Recladding

It could have been torn down, but aluminum fins revitalize an NYC arena with a bold look

Nassau July18 02
©Jamey Price Photography courtesy of 3A Composites USA

Elvis Presley performed four sold-out concerts there in 1973. Billy Joel has played there so many times he has a retired number banner in the rafters. It’s been the home of several New York-based sports teams, most notably the NHL’s New York Islanders and the NBA’s New York Nets basketball team.

But in 2012, the consensus was that after 40 years of dutiful service, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., commonly known as the Nassau Coliseum, had done its duty. Sadly, this concrete sports and entertainment venue that opened in 1972 had become a dated arena and fallen into disrepair. While a teardown was considered, New York City-based SHoP Architects saw the opportunity to sustainably retain the strong arena’s architectural massing while giving its façade an entirely new look.


“This building had great bones,” says John Cerone, associate principal and director of virtual design and construction at SHoP Architects. “With its 4-foot-thick concrete piers, we knew it could hold much more. We took a light approach to the project and decided to clip a metal design element to the existing structure.”

Photo: ©Jamey Price Photography courtesy of 3A Composites USA

Photo: ©Jamey Price Photography courtesy of 3A Composites USA

An intricate metal design system wrapping the 416,000-square-foot coliseum consists of approximately 4,700 unique aluminum fins created with 225,000 square feet of recyclable Alucobond PLUS aluminum composite material (ACM) by 3A Composites USA Inc., Davidson, N.C., in the naturAL Brushed finish. The fins were installed in a pre-fabricated, metal space frame from DSI Spaceframes Inc., Addison, Ill., and attached to the exterior wall by Crown Corr Inc., Gary, Ind. The fins fabricator was Sobotec Ltd., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Tom Seitz, director of strategic accounts at 3A Composites USA, says the result of this has the visual impact of an ocean wave design. “The complexity of this design and the material’s fabrication required that we produce the Alucobond in 35-foot, extra-long sheets as a special order,” he adds.

“Alucobond was chosen to create the fins for its lightweight and flexibility,” Cerone says. “Each of these fins has six folds. We knew this would be a complicated folding and routing process. We wanted clean lines and several fields of interest to look at as you walk closer to the individual fins. The Alucobond material is very easy to form into precise shapes. We also loved the natural brushed aluminum finish. It picks up the ambient light and color well during different times of day and reflects the sky and sunset.”

The metal design system was created through digital modeling, which required SHoP crews to scan the coliseum's entire exterior with 3-D lasers to create digital files that would ensure the metal system fit onto the building, while allowing the fins and space frame to be pre-fabricated in controlled environments.

Photo: ©Jamey Price Photography courtesy of 3A Composites USA

Sobotec crews spent approximately six months fabricating the fins. According to Vlad Sobot, president of Sobotec, crews utilized the architects' 3-D models to create shop fabrication drawings that could be read by the company’s CNC router. “These panels were fabricated into such a unique shape—similar to a shark fin,” Sobot says. “The fin comes out and then tapers in; the panel then is adjusted and reversed to taper the other way. No one fin is the exact same size as the other. As one fin comes out bigger in the design, the fin next to it becomes smaller.”

It was Crown Corr who recommended installing the fins in the metal space frame. “It was an alternative method to attach a support structure rather than penetrating the walls,” says Kent Oprea, operations manager at Crown Corr, who utilized SHoP’s 3-D models to create CAD drawings for DSI Spaceframes. Consisting of 20 miles of space frame tubing and weighing 20 tons, the frame was designed with 32 bays and features a unique design in each bay. The metal design system includes 6,000 space frame components as well as 2,000 sub-framing components. “Our biggest installation challenge was the uniqueness of each bay and every fin,” Oprea says. Crown Corr employees fit the Alucobond fins into the space frame bay by bay—a process that was completed in approximately three months.

The project features DURABRITE coatings from PPG Industries Inc., Pittsburgh, over brushed aluminum coil. “[This] was subsequently fabricated into the coliseum’s signature aluminum fins,” says Scott Moffatt, market manager at PPG. “In the recent past, it is likely that those fins would have been anodized, but the coliseum renovation demonstrates how architects can now specify an anodized aluminum look while protecting it with a proven and robust fluoropolymer coating.”

Photo: ©Jamey Price Photography courtesy of 3A Composites USA


“I just love it,” said 2018 Metal Architecture Design Awards judge Meryati Johari Blackwell, AIA, ASID, LEED AP, principal, Marlon Blackwell Architects, Fayetteville, Ark. The other judges shared this respect as they gave it the award in the Renovations and Retrofit category. “It’s indicative of technology and how you can reskin a building to transform it to today,” she added. “It changes the perception of [the coliseum] with this update.”

Design Award Judge Brian Court, AIA, partner, The Miller Hull Partnership LLP, Seattle, admired the coliseum’s simplicity and its radical transformation. “Finding one material and one simple move, and then leveraging that and capitalizing on that,” he said. “The transformation is stunning; it’s a striking building.”

Admiring its transformation, Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, LEED AP, principal, Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Milwaukee, cited it as an example of how arenas and sports facilities around the county can be recycled that are being deemed out of commission and unusable can be saved. “I like the idea of not actually tearing it down and not burdening taxpayers with the expense of a new building,” he added. “This is a great case study for recycling facilities.

Photo: Dominic Piscitelli