PCMA 2015: Populous Dives Into the Future of Convention Center Design

January 10, 2015

Successful Convention centers are a complex assemblage of spaces. They have a defining impact on urban areas; their scale must be carefully considered; they are constantly evolving; and they must integrate seamlessly into a city’s fabric. There are opportunities and challenges in designing convention centers – including the increasing use of technology to further expand a center’s impact – and they require a creative approach and a willingness to adapt design to a community and its users to create solutions that meet the needs of its myriad audiences. Part of our charge as designers of convention centers and students of the urban context of each city where we work is to understand the trends shaping the meetings industry, and to do this, we have sought out to gather as much information as possible from those in our industry. Each year at Imagine That, our conference for convention and visitors bureau representatives, building operators, meeting planners and community leaders, we spend a few days asking questions and listening, working to understand the expectations all the users of our building type have for design. We talk about emerging trends, we discuss the opportunities to deliver a better customer experience and we look at how the convention center interacts with other anchor buildings in the city to create a cohesive visitor experience. During a project design process with our clients, we do the same thing. We ask provocative questions, we challenge them to think beyond the building and we seek out opportunities to evolve design… and the city in turn.

On Monday, we’ll dig deep with one group in particular – meeting planners. A team of Populous designers will travel to Chicago for the Professional Convention Management Association’s annual Convening Leaders conference and will host a tailored version of the firm’s Imagine That Conference. We’ll meet with 15 dynamic meeting planners from across the country on Monday to brainstorm ideas and discuss trends. Tuesday, we’ll be on display in the Trends Transfer Lab in the foyer, working throughout the day to design better meeting facilities based on the trends the meeting planners discussed on Monday. Wednesday morning, we’ll present our findings and solicit feedback from attendees. What’s exciting for us is that we can’t tell you in this moment what designs might look like or what new hybrid facilities we might create. We’re not sure what the program of the building will entail or what types of spaces might better host future meetings. We know the trends that are currently shaping our industry – outdoor event spaces, integrated technology, the need for more contiguous exhibition space, and greater connectivity within the city fabric -but PCMA provides us with the opportunity to explore new trends and look at the buildings we design with a new perspective from one of the user groups who knows our building types best.  What is really important though, is that participants in these sessions will come away with the understanding that they can help shape the future of convention center design.  As architects, we will ultimately design these facilities, but as collaborative designers, we look to our non-architect partners to creatively shape the future with us. Our goal is to continue open dialogue within the industry that is authentic, collaborative and engaging about how an evolving building type can do more for a city and do more for the users – and participants at PCMA will be an integral component to this ongoing conversation.

We’ll follow up with a blog after the event to showcase the collaborative process and the ideas explored. In the meantime, join the conversation on Twitter with #PCMACL and by following @Populous.


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