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How Aura Planning can help with venue design 

Any venue, whether it’s a stadium, arena, theatre or concert hall, will possess permanent characteristics that generate a unique atmosphere. In the traditional design process, there is an assumption that good design and visionary thinking particularly from the gifted specialist architect and design team, will lead to an outcome with a great atmosphere. There is a risk in this assumption. Atmosphere is a personal perception and differs from one person to another. Although event atmosphere can be manipulated for its participants, the aura of the permanent fabric of a venue needs to be designed to support the range of atmospheres wanted. 

Aura Planning provides tools for describing what qualities the permanent venue needs by comparing the personal preferences of all involved - the brief-makers, who commission the design, the designers and the venue’s users. This group included performers, the audience as well as the people who manage and operate the venue. 

A stark example of the risks of being insensitive to one group’s atmospheric expectations of a venue is an Olympic stadium that also needs to hold premier division football once the Olympic Games are over if it is to have a viable legacy. Approximately £300 million was spent converting the 2012 London Olympic stadium into a functioning premier division football stadium. Manchester City stadium was converted from a Commonwealth Games venue at a fraction of the cost. This caused some controversy and the West Ham supporters are still divided about the success of the adaption. 

The problem that Manchester addressed and the London Olympic stadium didn’t is one of aura planning. The underlying principles of Olympics and football are different and so are their spectator’s expectations. The focal geometry of an Olympic seating bowl suits the principle that it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts. For football, the principle is fair play but between two opposing sides. Traditional football stadia have defined stands that naturally generate large divisions, the most obvious being between the home and away supporter areas. The conflicting needs of the different events is difficult to resolve when the Olympic stadium retains its original geometry. Its inherent aura cannot support an atmosphere generated by two opposing sides. 


Aura Planning identifies these problems through open conversations with user and commissioner groups, then sets out objectives for the design team to solve. It is not an architectural design. It generates a brief for the architect and other technical experts involved in realising the design. 

Why Burland Aura Planning for venue and stadium design

James Burland is an architect who, over a career designing a wide range of different buildings, felt the building user wasn’t getting enough say. Although users were often consulted, they were not encouraged to share the mood they wanted a building to give them. 

The permanent design features of a venue all influence the way you feel and all good architects can create moods through design. But they need to know what mood you are after! Those moods will be different where you are in relation to the building and what you want to do in the building.

James encountered mood specification when designing large sports stadiums where the spectator’s experience is crucial and carefully planned. The interplay of light, sound and air is the spatial experience and it differs depending on whether you are approaching, entering, moving through or staying in the venue, and whether you are alone or with others.

He researched the published research on the area on a masters degree at Cambridge University and developed the Burland Aura Planning process. He has subsequently applied it to several major stadia and venue projects.

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Stadium, arena, theatre and concert hall design

Defines the design outcomes you want when commissioning an events venue. Here’s how we help the creators and the users get a venue design that delights.

Who we work with

  • Venue operators who want to improve the atmosphere in their venues

  • Venue owners wanting to give their audiences at their venues the best possible experience

  • Spectator groups looking to influence the design of their club’s home ground and create the atmospheres they want for their supporters

  • Planning authorities setting the brief for the context and environmental impact of a venue 


Project: The Billiardrome


The aura of live snooker is most impressive in settings where a huge amount of people can completely encircle the unfolding game. To capture this aura the client asked James how many people can sit around a snooker table and all appreciate not only the play but also the atmosphere. This required many conversations with the different participants. The spectators wanted a complete entry experience where they can talk and discuss the ins-and-outs of the emerging competition and also in a setting that is full of the history of the game. The referee wanted the ability to be discreet and not interfere accidentally. The media needed plenty of room for their cameras. And the players wanted the weight of an intense audience around them, 


“The Billiardrome reminds me of the incredibly exciting experience of playing snooker at a Livestock Auction Arena in Ireland. It has a similar in-the-round intensity”


Interested in working together?

How does aura planning for stadia and venue design work?


It works by gathering together the preferences of each person involved in the design of the venue and those the venue will impact. The process identifies common ground so agreement can be reached. The results become a brief you can use to talk to the various stakeholders, the design team and building contractors about what you want. Once you receive design proposals, you can use the aura planning brief to check they will achieve the atmospheres the venue needs to generate.

When to talk to us about venue design?

The earlier you discover and define your preferences for how you want your venue to feel - its aura - the easier it will be to find a location and a design solution. If you already have a venue project underway and want to check its ability to create the atmospheres needed, again, talk to us. We’ll be able to help define what you want and how that might be achieved. 

What outcomes can aura planning achieve for venue design?

  • Identify what you want from a venue so you’re more likely to be delighted with the result

  • Clarity about the thing that is hardest to define, yet is the most important aspect of any venue project, the feeling you want it to give spectators

  • Definition of the right range of atmospheres you need the venue to provide

  • Agreement about what all those involved want

  • Clear direction for all members of the design team

  • Seeing potential in a site location for a new build or in the adoption of an existing building 

  • Identifying what you value in a venue and what you don’t so you don’t pay for what you don’t need

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