Boots n’ Suits: Designing for Flexibility in the Fairgrounds & Equestrian Market
by Bill Bourne, lead project architect
Providing different spaces for various occasions is the heart of an exposition center’s purpose. The building must drive revenue, as well as promote community engagement and togetherness. To complete these tasks, expo centers need to incorporate a variety of room types and sizes, versatile audio and video installments, and also respect the needs and traditions of the communities they serve. The high-wire act of the modern day expo center is to meet all of these requirements, without diluting any of them.
Enter the Williamson County Expo Center.
Located in Taylor, Texas, the brand new facility is a shining example of designing for a myriad of events. Comprised of three venues — an arena, conditioned expo and covered expo, which can be used separately, simultaneously or all together — the facility puts flexibility first.
Williamson County Expo Center’s design makes bold moves to emphasize the separate entries for the arena and the expo halls, while complementing the flat landscape of the surrounding prairie. Metal panels, exposed steel framing and deep overhangs are familiar references to agricultural design. Simple and durable materials are used in the interior, with accents of dark bronze and wood. The design approach creates a comfortable and appropriate setting for both the rugged cowboy and the refined quinceañera.
Exceptional Event Space
For the suit-clad visitor, the expo center features an enclosed section on the south end housing conference and meeting rooms. These spaces are modular, capable of opening up to create a large space or operating as separate rooms. Complete with split audio capability, they can run on a shared intercom and speaker channel or be broken up individually.
With 15,000 square feet of space available, the space can host anything from weddings and luncheons to trade shows and concerts. This new enclosed area allows the expo center to expand beyond arena and expo events to offer a greater experience.
Revitalized Rodeo Grounds
When first opened in 2003, the East Williamson County Events Center became the official home of the 54-year-old Taylor, Texas, Rodeo. Before the redesign process began, it was made imperative that the end result carries the tradition of the Texas Rodeo forward, while simultaneously expanding and enhancing it. Improvements to the existing rodeo arena will promote year-round events with the addition of a fabric enclosure to block winds in the winter and the setting sun in the summer while still keeping the rustic experience of the outdoor rodeo event.
To add value to the facility a covered penning and warm up area was also added. These developments provide shelter to livestock, horses, and staff and operate as prep space for shows. Wash racks were also added to the center, in both the arena section and also the backside of the enclosed building. Both spaces add value and functionality to the expo center for a variety of livestock and equestrian events.
Diversity without Dilution
A multi-use space that brings out the best in all the events it hosts is the end goal of all expo centers, and the Williamson County project reflects this. Tying together the rodeo arena and the enclosed office building is the covered expo space. Intended to transition crowds for large events from the arena to the indoor space, the area acts as a breezeway that can hold horse stalls and hog pens or be used as a bar and dance floor depending on the event. It can be used to enhance events or operate in conjunction with them.
Versatility is the centerpiece of all expo center designs. Whether it needs to host events in city centers or rural spaces, an expo center must encompass all the functional needs of the community it lives in. The Williamson County Expo Center is a prime example of what an expo center tailored to its surroundings looks like. With the capability to host all kinds of events, whether they require boots or suits, the Williamson County Expo Center is impressive on both functional and visual levels.
Bill Bourne has played an integral role in the design of expo centers, fairgrounds, entertainment and equestrian/livestock venues since joining Populous in 2007. His other recent projects include the Mallet Event Center and Oklahoma State Fair Park. To learn more about Populous’ design philosophy in the fairgrounds and equestrian space, send Bill a note.