Details and designs have been revealed for the MSG Sphere London, a planned venue that would hold up to 21,500 people.
That capacity would make it the largest concert arena in the UK, outstripping Manchester Arena (capacity 21,000) and London’s O2 Arena (20,000).
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG), which is behind the New York concert and sports venue of the same name, have bought a 1.9-hectare (4.7-acre) site in Stratford, adjacent to the Olympic Park and Westfield shopping centre, that was used as a coach park during the 2012 London Olympics. MSG have now filed planning documents, following an announcement of its plans in February 2018. Those plans received support from then-culture secretary Matt Hancock and London mayor Sadiq Khan.
The arena, housed in a vast spherical structure, would seat 17,566 people, or hold 21,500 with a mix of seated and standing options. It is designed by Populous, the architecture firm behind Wembley Stadium. Initial “golf ball” designs have developed into a more embedded structure. According to the planning document, the sphere will be covered in LED panels that can display high-definition concert footage or advertising images – the designs suggest that the imagery will be clearly visible 150 metres away.
The structure is designed to be 120 metres wide and 90 metres high – slightly shorter than the central tower of Tate Modern. The designs show that the main concert venue would be a clamshell shape, with curved seating facing a stage on one side. As well as traditional concerts, the documents suggest that awards shows, circus events, e-sports events and ring sports such as boxing or UFC could be held there.
The MSG Sphere will also host a separate 1,500-capacity venue, that “will help support grassroots and emerging music acts”, plus a 450-capacity restaurant and nightclub, cafes and retail spaces. Another huge LED screen will also be installed on the inside of the concert hall’s curved walls, allowing for “immersive” performances and augmented reality. Four new bridges would connect the structure to the surrounding area.
The planning document argues that London lacks major concert venues of this type. There only two – the O2 Arena and Wembley Arena – versus seven in New York. AEG, who own the O2 Arena, have expressed concerns over the MSG Sphere, saying “there is a question mark over whether such a venue should be located in east London, so close to existing venues at the Olympic Park – such as the London Stadium and Copper Box – as well as AEG’s own nearby venue, the O2 Arena.”
The plans have been filed following consultation with public bodies including Transport for London, Greater London Authority, and the borough of Newham, where it is to be situated.
Worries have already been voiced by local residents. A petition launched four months ago argues that the building will block sunlight, create light pollution and increase traffic in the area. Others have opposed MSG, whose executive chair, James Dolan, has donated funds to Donald Trump, and was on the board of the Weinstein Company from 2015-16. Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the Music Venue Trust, has argued that some audiences would feel uncomfortable in a venue from a Trump backer.
Property industry sources said the site could accommodate up to 1,400 new homes, and campaigners are expected to oppose the plan because of a shortage of affordable housing in the area. Newham has 25,079 households on its housing waiting list.
Jayne McGivern, MSG’s executive vice-president of development and construction, said: “This is an opportunity to take an inaccessible coach park and use it to support thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic benefit.” Analysis conducted by EY on behalf of MSG suggests the project will create 4,300 jobs across the three-year construction phase, and then generate £2.7bn of revenue over 20 years, supporting 3,200 jobs annually.