Grady County Fairgrounds: Designing with History in Mind

October 11, 2014

Renovations provide an opportunity to recapture the history and tradition that defines a building while amplifying the experience – highlighting where the facility has been and where it is headed.  In the fairgrounds and equestrian markets, many of our recent projects have been driven by historic architectural preservation.

Just last year, at Indiana State Fair Coliseum, we renovated a venue that has hosted historic figures, from the Beatles to John F. Kennedy, and has become a landmark building in Indianapolis. In Grady County, Oklahoma, we’re in the process of renovating and planning for the future of a fairgrounds that played an important role in World War II, and the sandstone Art Deco fairgrounds buildings that were constructed in 1939 therefore hold important significance to the community in Chickasha, Oklahoma.

Fast forward nearly 70 years to 2012, when Populous began work on a new master plan for the Grady County Fairgrounds that was designed to evolve the fairgrounds into a modern, multi-purpose event center capable of hosting events ranging from livestock and equestrian shows to family entertainment shows and exposition events to rodeos.  The master plan also calls for the addition of a new outdoor rodeo and event arena and a climate controlled indoor arena.  While new buildings are being added to the site, and others renovated, the entire design process has been driven by the rich history of the site.

The unique sandstone Art Deco architecture has inspired the look and feel of the new buildings on site.  As part of the design process, we’ve discussed how to capture the spirit, culture and history of Grady County, which is seen in many ways, most notably through:

  • The Grandstand: Historic rodeos have been hosted on site for decades and the environment for watching the rodeos in the outdoor arenas feels very historical and reminiscent of decades gone by. To honor this, our design of the outdoor rodeo event arena features grandstands on grade, rather than elevated grandstands, and strips of grass along rails to allow people to continue to sit and enjoy events in the way they always have.
  • The Materials: To honor the Art Deco style, which was built using sandstone construction – unusual now – we tried to find materials that would replicate this style to ensure authenticity of design. While heavy sandstone block, used in 1939, wasn’t available, we found a similar material called Split Face CMU, that mimics closely the original architecture style. We also made use of curved glass block features, common at the time the other buildings on site were constructed.

While the building’s history is communicated clearly through the design, we’ve also made use of the most modern technology for lighting, climate control, concessions and fan amenities, while still honoring the facility’s rich heritage. The expansion is allowing the fairgrounds to grow their historic markets – fairgrounds, equestrian and livestock events – while also exploring new markets like expo and entertainment events to engage the growing the diversity of the community.

Construction is currently underway on the new outdoor rodeo and event arena and is expected to be completed in spring of 2015.


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