Image in modal.

While sports fans regularly take to the streets of Cincinnati to celebrate local victories, the Queen City’s soccer enthusiasts show their love, win or lose. Prior to every FC Cincinnati game, supporters of the club hold a boisterous “march to the match” that amasses fans as it wends its way past breweries and parks to the pitch. In its design of the team’s TQL Stadium, which opened last May, Populous transformed the facade into a permeable screen capable of motion graphics that match the energy of this already epic tradition.

After the team’s launch in 2016, FC Cincinnati played matches at UC’s Nippert Stadium. For the club’s first dedicated facility, located on a 12.4-acre downtown site, the Populous team wanted to devise a building that would support the fans’ enthusiastic forms of expression. Architect Ayesha Husain, a principal at the firm, says the 512,000-square-foot open-air TQL Stadium features an elevated east plaza in part to accommodate the home stretch of the pre-game march. Moreover, inside the 26,000-seat venue, a portion of the seating bowl is raked at a 34-degree angle, to focus drumming, chants, and roars into a “wall of sound” that grips the pitch.

In addition to organizing the crowds, this venue is designed to pump them up. “It’s not often you get to build a new stadium in an urban environment, and we were looking for something to attract and draw people to the site,” Husain notes. Populous arrived at a facade comprising more than 500 aluminum fins that are folded along asymmetrical splines. Viewed from the street at an oblique angle, the extrusions appear singular, like a creased torus. Head-on, observers see between the elements to the building’s superstructure and the playing field beyond.

TQL Stadium.

The porous facade enables views into the pitch (top) as its LED-lined fins (above) provide luminous motion graphics. Photo © Tom Harris, click to enlarge.

After developing this scheme, Populous invited SACO Technologies, a Montreal-based manufacturer of LEDs for video applications, to “merge the facade system with dynamic lighting and bring the stadium to life,” as Husain puts it. To turn the architectural surface into a programmable media display, the SACO team embedded LED luminaires in approximately half the fins, connecting the fixtures to a video control system. SACO vice president Yanick Fournier, who describes the light fixture as “a video screen in a stick,” explains: “Our media collective created approximately 10 scenes for specific moments, and we also provided a dashboard and guidelines so that the club could create its own content.” The illuminated scenes, which range from geometric patterns to soccer-themed animations, face east to minimize visual disruption of the adjacent residential West End neighborhood.

Because Populous tapped SACO early on, the two studios designed the fins collaboratively. According to Jonathan Labbee, co-CEO of the lighting company, they arrived at a mass-customizable profile that “captures our fixture and acts as a raceway for cabling” by tapering from back to front. Wisconsin firm Jones Sign fabricated the aluminum fins, incorporating the LED sticks simultaneously. Of integrating architecture and LED video technology, Labbee says, “That keeps the viewer inside of the experience.” Not that the FC Cincinnati fans need prodding. For the club’s first game inside TQL Stadium, the stands were filled to pandemic-permitted capacity, while television viewership for Major League Soccer was nearly double the average, and Cincinnatians have been devotedly marching to the match ever since.

Read more about lighting projects from the March 2022 Issue


The Starrett-Lehigh Building
601 West 26th Street | Suite 1737
New York, NY 10001
Main: +1 917 261 3426

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Jonathan Mallie (AIA) – Principal-in-charge | Design Lead, Ayesha Husain (AIA, NCARB, LEED AP) – Design & Project Manager, Phil Kolbo (AIA, NCARB, LEED AP) – Design Lead, Seating Bowl, Isabelle Rijnties – Interior Design Lead, Matt Adler – Exterior Designer, Clark Mleynek (AIA, NCARB) – Senior Project Architect, Steve Rohlfing (AIA) – Senior Project Architect, Lance Smith (AIA) – Structural Coordinator, Amy Stortz Miller (NCIDQ) – Interior Designer, Nina Riva (AIA, NCARB) – Architect, Nick Abele – Signage Design Lead, Jordan Kelly (NCIDQ, IIDA) – Interior Designer, Insu Kim – Interior Designer, Josh Johnson (AIA, NCARB, LEED AP) – Architect

Architect of Record:

Associate architect(s):
Elevar Design Group
555 Carr St. Cincinnati, OH 45203
(513) 721 – 0600

Interior designer:

Structural Engineering: Burohappold Engineering & Julie Cromwell Associates
Building System Engineering: ME Engineers

Project Manager: Machete Group
Civil Engineers and Landscape: The Kleingers Croup
Acoustic Consultant: WJHW
Food Service: Duray
Exterior Facade Lighting: SACO Technologies
Building and Fire Code Consultant: FP&C Consultants

General contractor:
Turner Construction Company

For Populous photos, Tom Harris



Structural System:
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: SteelFab and Jones Sign

Exterior Cladding:
Masonry: 042000- Unit Masonry- Trenwyth, “Trendstone” normal weight integral colored ground face concrete masonry units. Work installed by Combs &Weisbrod Masonry, Inc.
Metal panels: 074213.13- Uninsulated formed metal wall panels over an insulated wall assembly. Panels were supplied by Fabral Metal Wall and Roof Systems of Lancaster PA. Work installed by Valley Interior Systems of Cincinnati
Precast concrete: 034100- Precast concrete seating bowl. Precast was supplied by Coreslab Structures of Indianapolis
EIFS, ACM, or other: 092613 – Sto BTS Xtra direct applied acrylic finish system. Work installed by Valley Interiors Systems of Cincinnati
Moisture barrier: 072726- ‘Air-Bloc-31MR’ fluid applied vapor permeable air and water barrier membrane by Henry Company of El Segundo CA
Curtain wall: 084423 – Tubelite SS Series SSG Unitized Curtain wall system. Work installed by Madison Heights Glass Co. Inc, Ferndale MI
Exterior Sponsorship and Specialty Signage: Custom fabricated internally lit signage was fabricated and installed by Paramount & Co of Port Jervis, NY
Glazed and Decorative Metal Railings: Railing systems inside the bowl and exterior railings were fabricated and installed by Trex Commercial Products of Minneapolis MN

Interior Premium lighting: Supplied by multiple manufacturers. List of manufactures includes: Pablo, Baselite, Modern Form, WAC, Focal Point, Tom Dixon, Lumenwerx and Tech
Exterior LED Fin Lighting: SACO ‘Shockwave V-stick S Color Series high performance LED lighting. Each pixel is an RGB LED that is individually controlled via the SACO SVB V- Brain controller. Lighting was supplied by SACO Technologies Inc. Montreal QC, Canada. Lighting provided to Jones Sign of De Pere, WI who incorporated LEDs into the custom fabricated fins.
Dimming system or other lighting controls: ‘Wattstopper’ Lighting Controls provided by Legrand. System was installed by United Electric Co. Inc./ Ermco Inc of Cincinnati OH