Built in 1972, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a sports and events venue on Long Island, was overdue for an update. “This building had great bones,” said John Cerone, associate principal and director of virtual design and construction of New York–based SHoP Architects, who undertook the exterior renovation. “With its four-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—a series of fins—to the existing structure.”

Digital modeling was key to the design process. The exterior of the Coliseum was scanned with 3D lasers to create digital files that would ensure the metal system fit precisely onto the building while allowing the fins and their support structure to be prefabricated in controlled environments. The scans enabled the design team to coordinate with the contractors to a tolerance of a fraction of an inch.

The intricate metal system wrapping the arena consists of approximately 4,700 aluminum fins created from 225,000 square feet of recyclable, 4mm Alucobond PLUS aluminum composite material by 3A Composites USA. The panels were folded into a tapered form similar to a shark’s dorsal fin, with none of them the same size or shape. As they contour around the building, they create a powerful undulating line that looks like an ocean wave.

The Coliseum’s 85,000-square-foot concrete exterior was painted solid black in order to serve as a backdrop for the metal overlay. Instead of penetrating the walls to anchor the fins, they are installed in a prefabricated space frame attached to the wall. Using 20 miles of tubing, the 20-ton space frame was designed with 32 uniquely configured bays.