by Michael J. Shapiro | July 01, 2014
What does the future hold with respect to convention center design? M&C spoke with a number of high-profile architects who have recently debuted venues and expansions, both domestically and abroad, and who are hard at work on projects that will open over the next several years. What emerged through their philosophies and approaches are a number of related trends, beginning with the relationship of the building to the destination and its residents. These trends will define not only the appearance of new convention centers but how these buildings will be used, by attendees and locals alike.  

Michael Lockwood
Populous, Kansas City, Mo.

At Populous, Kansas City, Mo.-based principal Michael Lockwood wants to connect convention centers with their communities by changing the dynamic of the design process. "As architects," he says, "we typically come into the equation once a city has decided that we've got X amount of dollars to spend on X amount of space. But we try to get out of that traditional position, and help cities understand the bigger picture of the destination, of the district, how the convention center can be conceived of in a much bigger way."

To do so, Populous holds an annual gathering to which a varied group is invited, including planners, building operators, and convention and visitor bureau officials. "Sometimes we just sit back and listen," says Lockwood. "We just get them together and let them talk about what it is they all want. Because they don't necessarily have that ability in their own towns to get together in a friendly, open-minded kind of way, to workshop and rise above their day-to-day requirements and think bigger about the destination." For the projects awarded to Populous, discussions of this nature result in Lockwood and his team being able to create "a more nimble facility that accommodates more city interests."

As for trends, "we're seeing a much bigger push toward customer experience," says Lockwood. That translates to more hotel-like hospitality concerns. "People's expectations are higher. They are no longer willing to downgrade their experience to go into a building to have a meeting. If anything, your convention experience should be on par with or better than a hotel experience, or a sporting event -- or going out to a great district in your own hometown."

Designing convention centers with that in mind is fun, says Lockwood. "It starts to break down the formulaic type of 'meeting and exhibit and ballroom' style that typically defines convention centers." And that leads to an increased focus on lobbies, prefunction and outdoor spaces -- how they may be used for meetings, and also how they interact with more traditional meeting spaces. Lockwood points to the Populous design work at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio as one example.

"We were told to create 20 meeting rooms, at 2,000 square feet each," says the architect. "We designed the meeting rooms to view down into a really large public lobby. They're dispersed around this public space to make each feel like it has a unique address. You can come into this cool courtyard space and say, 'That's my room up there,' as opposed to looking down a long corridor and saying, 'My room is one of these.'"