Crafting Meaning in Convention Center Design

April 7, 2016 / Mason Paoli

How putting hospitality at the core of design creates meaningful experiences

Uncovering a sense of place and emotional connection drives our approach to hospitality design. When authentic design solutions are made a priority, they pay off in huge ways, making an experience of space become not just seamless, but memorable and meaningful.

Convention centers share a common problem for event planners and event attendees: many of them look and function in the exact same way. We prefer to challenge the blank-box convention center standard. At the heart of the Populous approach is a focus on hospitality: crafting a unique and engaging experience for customers – one that just happens to be in a convention center.

What does it mean when we use creativity and sense of place as a baseline for convention center design?

Process: Learn the Story

Before we begin any design, we center ourselves in the destination we’re working in. Each of our projects is unique, and the place, culture and people in a destination have their own stories to tell us. We go local to build a foundation for our design story. How can we express the local spirit?  How can we create a facility that enhances the surrounding community?  We tour everything from buttoned up public spaces to dive bars to understand the culture.


This focus on research allows us to craft a more meaningful design story that isn’t about trends. The strong foundation leads to design solutions that are inspired by the place, and centers every decision around a touchpoint that’s meaningful for both locals and, long-term, convention center users.


Program: Listen to Understand

No project is without practical considerations. Another essential of our process involves a lot of listening to understand the many people invested in the project and how their concerns need to be addressed in the design and function of the building we create.

Through workshops and many hours of simply listening and striving to understand the myriad concerns of a project, we then enrich our design story to ensure that it meets the needs of the community, project stakeholders, event planners, operators and attendees.


Implement: Getting in the Mix

This fusion of the practical and creative is our sweet spot – it’s what helps us craft a unique convention center that makes people want to come back. These touchpoints continue to drive the process and help us stay grounded as we make decisions along the way.

Hospitality, at its core, is creating comfort, a sense of welcome, and making a guest feel at home. We design with the aim of going beyond baseline functionality to create spaces that are adaptable, flexible and beautiful; spaces that blur the boundary between inside and outside, integrate elements of play, offer unique retail and food options. We use technology in ways that are both visible and invisible to the end user: in some cases, well-integrated, easy-to-use technology like touchscreens and POS, add delight to a space. In others, the end user isn’t even aware of how technology is used to fabricate spatial elements that add life (materials, pinpoint-precision laser cutting).


We look at each convention center project as wholly unique, treating a convention center as a destination within itself. Creativity and practicality drive every decision and come together to form spaces that are a joy to experience.

What challenges are you facing in convention center design? Let us know via email or the comments below to get the dialogue started.

Meet the author

Mason Paoli

Principal, Interior Design Director – Kansas City / Kansas City


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