First Direct Arena, Leeds

An inspiring venue for a vibrant city

Gordon Alexander, BAM’s Construction Manager on the 13,500-seat First Direct Arena in Leeds, has never shied away from a challenge. This was one of his biggest to date: “We needed to squeeze what should have been a £67 million design out of a £60 million budget,” he recalls.

Project details

  • Customer: Leeds City Council
  • Architect: Populous
  • Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon
  • Structural Engineer: Arup
  • M&E Consultants: Arup
  • Value: £60m

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13,500 Fact icon people is the capacity of the arena
140 Fact icon events per year will be hosted by the world-class arena
saved Fact icon 350,000 by using BIM to identify potential risks
90 Fact icon weeks of work experience to 25 unemployed people.

Value engineering

That meant going back to the drawing board on some elements. Working closely with acoustic consultants Arup, BAM came up with a workable plan for the roof.

We also substituted the original external render with metal shingles and ditched the bespoke glazing in favour of a modified off-the-shelf system. All these changes meant we could come in on budget.

A lasting community legacy

Leeds City Council wanted to make sure the Arena was more than just a first-class entertainment venue for the city – they wanted it to have a positive impact on local labour and give employment opportunities for young people. We set out a community engagement plan for the project and successfully.

  • Delivered 224 weeks of work experience on site
  • Supported 90 apprentices 
  • Supported 42 schools with site visits and curriculum enhancing workshops
  • Employed 80 local people employed and safeguarded 122 local jobs 
  • Contracted 82 Leeds companies to work on site 
  • Started 53 members of workforce on NVQs to address skills gaps

Leeds apprentice Award

BAM’s efforts have seen the successful delivery of a high quality and unique design that has won plaudits from stakeholders such as CABE and the Civic Trust, and continues to receive excellent feedback from media and the local communities.

Chris Coulson

Executive Officer, Asset Management Division, Leeds City Council

Built in BIM

The project was also a pioneering one for the use of BIM: saving 9,000 drawings and 15,000 hours.

“Typically we’d expect 100 major design clashes on a job of this size to slip through the net, at a cost of around £350,000,” Alexander confirms. On this job there were just two. 3D modelling also made it easier to access the M&E installations. 

The construction Manager’s verdict? “It’s a stunning venue that doesn’t just look good. It works. I’m not surprised it’s already winning awards and attracting global superstar performers.”