climate pledge arena in seattle washington designed by populous
Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle

How Firms Design Event Venues That Keep You Coming Back

For the Leading Edge series, Populous principal Mason Paoli and senior principal Adam Stover describe how the global firm designs future-conscious entertainment venues where memories are made.


What makes an architecture and design practice unique? How do firms and offices develop areas of expertise, deep insights, and passion projects? For the Leading Edge seriesMetropolis editor in chief Avinash Rajagopal sat down with 20 firms in 2022, speaking to practitioners about what distinguishes their work. Watch the full series on DesignTV by SANDOW.

The fun in our design process is creating something that’s truly unique—whether it’s the exterior architecture of a venue or the interior design of a hospitality space. We want to create something that speaks to the team, the client, and the community. It’s easy to create beautiful, staggering images but, for us, it starts with the story. We’re focused on every visitor who enters our facilities. We want to know what’s going to excite them. Our task is to create an experience that will have them wanting to come back over and over again.

interior at churchill downs in louisville, kentucky designed by populous
Churchill Downs; Louisville, KY

Designing Venues That Deliver Unique Experiences

People crave an intimate connection, whether their feet are on the court or they’re sitting in the upper deck. We dedicate a lot of time and research to understanding the demographics of people who visit our venues to determine what a premium experience looks like for everyone.

We do this through a technique called journey mapping, where we imagine different types of guests and map out their imaginary routes from the moment they step out of their car or the subway to when they leave the venue, and then we try to engage them along that path. By looking at these diverse view-points, we can ensure every individual’s experience is unique and memorable.

The venues we design are 365-days-a-year, 24/7 experiences. They are a critical part of their city and the urban core. Whether we are working with iconic brands on updates to historic venues like Churchill Downs Racetrack or Wrigley Field, or new entertainment facilities, our goal is to design spaces and experiences that are reflective of the communities we’re creating them for.

For Populous, a Focus on the Future Drives Design Details

Also, because the buildings and events we create are often vast and the center-piece of wider community districts, our role in climate action is unique. We’re thinking about that every day, from the site selection of the venue to the materials we choose for the interior spaces. We focus on research and development so we can make the best long-term decisions and solve for these challenges as an industry. We have to future-proof. We have to create a better-built tomorrow.

As we think about the future, people are our priority—whether it’s the fan, the artist, the staff or the athlete. We create connection at every scale and down to every last detail. And at the root of it all, we’re designing places for human connection.”

The Leading Edge

This story is part of the Leading Edge Metropolis partnership series that examines what sets apart architecture and design practices. Explore the core values and new initiatives of industry innovators across disciplines. 

Mason Paoli, principal, and Adam Stover, senior principal, Populous

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