Populous completes its neighborhood-fusing soccer stadium in Cincinnati

Fit For A Queen City

Populous completes its neighborhood-fusing soccer stadium in Cincinnati

While the design of TQL Stadium was largely influenced by contemporary European soccer venues, it also includes a number of design elements that pay homage to the Queen City and its architectural legacy. (Courtesy Populous)

Professional soccer club FC Cincinnati has officially cut the ribbon on its highly anticipated new home, a 26,000-seat MLS stadium with a programmable LED facade that serves as a new and very hard-to-miss point of connection between the historic West End and Over-the-Rhine districts just north of downtown Cincinnati. The $250 million Populous-designed stadium, formerly known as West End Stadium before hometown freight brokerage firm Total Quality Logistics (TQL) secured the naming rights in late April, ranks as one of the largest-capacity MLS stadiums in the United States and features the widest video board of any soccer-specific sports venue in North America. Situated along Central Parkway, the 12.4-acre complex first broke ground at the end of 2018 and will host its inaugural match on May 16 when FC Cincinnati faces off against Inter Miami CF.

“At a time when we are looking to sports to bring us back together, the continuous seating bowl and dynamically lit exterior design for TQL Stadium will capture the energy of the fan base in Cincinnati and create a next-gen soccer experience in the United States,” Jonathan Mallie, a senior partner at Populous who led the stadium’s design, told AN.

As previously detailed, this is the second major iteration of the landmark structure now known as TQL Stadium. Original plans conceived by MEIS Architects envisioned a facility wrapped in an EFTE pillow facade, a design largely inspired by Herzog & de Meuron’s Allianz Arena in Munich. That design went through several revisions but was ultimately scrapped and the Kansas City-headquartered stadia specialists at Populous were brought in to overhaul the design and serve as lead project architect. In July 2019, shortly following the unveiling of Populous’ new vision for the stadium, a representative with FC Cincinnati commented on the switch-up to AN:

“Meis’ designs provided a great foundation for us and got us going down a design path that would deliver Cincinnati a truly unique stadium, which was important to us and one of the goals of this project. However, as we reached a critical point in our construction path, we decided to bring in Populous who had far greater resources behind them to ensure the project met ownership’s goals of delivering a state-of-the-art stadium on-time, on-budget, and with an iconic look and feel.”

detail of led-illuminated architectural finds
(Courtesy Populous)

Like the original design, the completed TQL Stadium features an illuminated exterior but in lieu of the EFTE facade, the bowl-shaped structure is wrapped in over 500 vertical aluminum fins, which are individually programmed to come alive for nighttime events as part of an integrated LED video display system. (A total of 513 fins, a number that nods to the Cincinnati area code, was originally planned.) During the day when the stadium’s exterior is not aglow, the architectural fins create a “singular twisting motion that signifies the tension between two teams about to take the pitch,” per a press release.

“TQL Stadium serves not only as a home for FC Cincinnati but a canvas to express its evolving identity on a global stage,” elaborated Mallie in a recent statement announcing the project’s completion. “We worked closely with ownership to create a truly remarkable, one-of-a-kind stadium experience that will serve to raise the profile of the team, the league, and the city. From the bold graphics of the programmable LED integrated facade to the continuity of the seating bowl and the wall of sound created by the safe standing supporters’ section on game day, the iconic experience of TQL Stadium will be unrivaled as it serves its electric fan base.”

While TQL Stadium’s programmable LED facade (which, it should be noted, primarily faces east as to not disrupt the stadium’s neighbors to the west) serves as a conspicuous exterior highlight, the interior of the venue and its uninterrupted seating bowl also features a slew of notable design features. The Bailey, the club’s dedicated home fan section, spans the entire northern section of the stands and, thanks to its orientation at a 34-degree slope, ranks as one of the steepest supporter sections in the league. This, per the club, “creates an imposing wall of sound over the pitch below and increase the intimacy of this vital seating section.”

In addition to the rowdy rah-rah intimacy of The Bailey, two decidedly less boisterous premium spaces at TQL Stadium evoke the rich cultural and architectural legacy of Cincinnati: The beer hall-inspired First Financial Club, which is anchored by a soaring, 1,000-square-foot brick wall feature that evokes the network of 19th-century subterranean beer vaults tucked beneath the city. (Neighboring Over-the-Rhine, a formerly working-class German enclave, is a buzzy hotbed of breweries and gastropubs in this famously beer-loving town that holds one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the world, second only to Munich.) Meanwhile, the tones and materiality of the Tunnel Club serve as a respectfully old-school nod to Queen City landmarks including the Cincinnati Music Hall, a High Victorian Gothic masterwork designed by Samuel Hannaford, and the legendary, but long-gone, old Cincinnati Library. The Music Hall, located in Over-the-Rhine, is just a short walk from the new stadium.

The thematic overlay of the Cincinnatus Club, named after the city’s Roman emperor namesake, showcases an aesthetic approach that swaps out the bold orange found in the team’s color palette with copper and brass in order to “create warm tones while paying homage to the city’s industrial history.” Blue, which joins orange as the club’s other core color, is replaced by a “muted dark navy hue” that can be found throughout the stadium.

“We created an experience at TQL Stadium that transcends the functional and technical aspects of the building,” said lead interior designer Isabelle Rijnties. “By carefully considering how users will experience the space, we created an emotional connection to the event, building, and city through interior details. While the seating bowl is where fans experience the raw energy of the live event, and considerable attention is paid to that element, the aesthetic of premium and public spaces further enriches the experience of every fan.”

Joining Populous on the core project team were Buro Happold as structural engineer, Elevar as associate architect, and Turner Construction as general contractor. Like its dynamic illuminated facade, early reviews of the new stadium from Cincinnati soccer fans are glowing.