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Architecture & Engineering

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January 23, 2017

Best in state: Gold award
Future value to engineering profession
DLR Group

Photo courtesy of DLR Group
Solar cells on this 24,000-square-foot canopy produce 34,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year.

Project: American Airlines Arena solar canopy
Client: The Heat Group

When the American Airlines Arena was built in 1999 to host the Miami Heat basketball team, it was built to the highest sustainable green standards, and in 2009 it was one of the first two arenas in the country to receive LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

This means the stadium is on the cutting edge of sustainability, including green roofing materials, reduced overall energy consumption, water-efficient landscaping, underground parking, and “walk-off carpets” that trap dirt and contamination to improve indoor-air quality.

In 2016, the DLR Group helped the arena gain another sustainable feather in its cap: a solar canopy. This 24,000-square-foot canopy entryway integrates 14 solar skylight rings with photovoltaic cells that produce approximately 34,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually.

Concealed within the soffits of each skylight is a dynamic, color-changing LED light system that can be programmed to illuminate the skylight cavities with changing light patterns, creating a vibrant, high-energy environment for fans. Coupled with the solar production of the skylights, the lighting system represents a net-zero energy addition to the facility.

DLR Group was the lead design firm on the project and provided electrical and structural engineering.

One of the biggest design challenges was the site’s potential for high winds. Its location on Biscayne Bay has a “Wind Exposure Category D” rating, where the canopy structure is expected to withstand wind speeds of 186 mph and a design pressure of more than 250 pounds per square foot.

Also, since the canopy was to be supported by the existing arena structure and an adjacent structure, it had to be lightweight and geometrically compatible. DLR Group designed a structural steel framing system that incorporated large-diameter, thick-walled steel columns, moment frames and multidirectional cantilevers.

The columns provided the necessary strength to resist gravity, lateral and uplift loads. They also allowed room for the conduits that carried electrical and AV wiring, and facilitated welded connections to provide stability to the arena structure.

The columns were partially filled with cast-in-place concrete to make them more fire-resistant.

The canopy provides a new fan amenity space that has a bar, food and beverage locations, advertisement displays and retail outlets, enabling the Miami Heat to capture additional revenue from game-day concession sales and as a rental space during non-game days.

During game days, the plaza is a hive of activity before the event and during halftime. On non-game days, revenue-generating functions like corporate and charity events, group sales and post-game parties dot the arena’s calendar. The arena has also served as a concert venue for Jennifer Lopez, U2, Lady Gaga, Adele, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Celine Dion, Katy Perry and the MTV Video Music Awards.

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