Convention centers traditionally have been
thought of as chameleon-like shells that can adapt to the needs of
transient tenants. Increasingly, however, new centers are asserting
a strong sense of place and their home cities are reaping the
benefits. The eight buildings profiled here not only are designed
to reflect their surroundings, they are integrated into the fabric
of their communities and stand as proud ambassadors for their
Colorado Convention Center, Denver
The expanded Colorado Convention Center opened last
December, wrapped in four and a half acres of glass. Fentress
Bradburn Architects purposefully left blank the inside West-facing
wall to allow rich Colorado sunsets to filter through the
translucent exterior and “paint” the wall anew each evening.
According to Curtis Worth Fentress, principal in charge of design
for the architectural firm, the center’s distinctive roofline a
canted slab that cuts into the air like a pointed blade represents
the peaks of the Rocky Mountains as well as the tectonic plates
underground that created the mountain range.
“The convention center has grown to such a size,” adds
Fentress, “it’s redefining the skyline of Denver.”
The facility, with 792,000 square feet of exhibit space, also
is contributing to the Denver arts scene; it was mandated that 1
percent of construction costs had to go toward commissioned
artwork. In June, a 40-foot-tall blue polymer concrete bear was
introduced to the site, peeking through the glass into the
The center is a cohesive part of its surroundings, linked via
landscaping, pedestrian bridges, urban corridors and light-rail
trains to three colleges, the performing arts complex, a new
housing complex and the Civic District.
David L. Lawrence Convention Center,
Opened in September 2003 with an innovative design by Rafael Viñoly
Architects, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Pittsburgh’s
North Shore is the world’s first green convention facility. The
building features a sloping suspension roof inspired by the three
nearby Allegheny River suspension bridges. Punctuated with glass
walls and skylights, the design allows for natural lighting in 75
percent of the facility. Also key for planners: more than 230,000
square feet of column-free exhibit space.
Thanks to its position along the river, the center uses natural
ventilation and water-reclamation systems, among other
environmentally friendly features. “Some people still subscribe to
the traditional idea that the box is all you need,” says Robert
Imperata, executive vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh
Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We were of the opinion that we
needed to showcase our forward thinking.”
Building green is a definite trend in Pittsburgh. The city has
28 energy-efficient and environment-friendly projects completed or
in the works, of which the convention center is the largest.
Imperata hopes the facility will help to dispel the outdated image
of Pittsburgh as less than green, due to its industrial past.
Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu
If the Colorado Convention Center’s glass walls are intended to let
the surrounding environment permeate the building, the Hawaii
Convention Center takes the idea one step further, blurring the
distinction between inside and out.
“The back half of the building, which has an ocean view, is
totally wide open,” says Mike Polovcin, director of operations at
the facility. Steel “trees,” interspersed with real palms and other
vegetation, support the center’s roof in the absence of walls.
Trade winds circulate through the corridors and serve as natural
The seven-year-old, $350 million facility has a 70-foot
waterfall in the lobby, a two-and-a-half-acre rooftop garden with
ponds and tropical flowers, and a roof that mimics the sails of the
canoes that brought the first settlers to the island chain.
Essentially, the center appears as a freestanding roof hovering
over a lush Hawaiian landscape.
In addition to more than 239,000 square feet of exhibit space,
the facility houses a $2 million art collection that depicts the
history, culture, geology and philosophies of the Hawaiian