The Desert: Now in 3-D

Phoenix Convention Center Expansion

  • Phoenix
  • 2008

CHALLENGE. When the Phoenix Civic Plaza first opened in 1972 and was expanded in 1985, downtown Phoenix looked much different than today. Large public buildings and mixed-use developments did not exist. The vibrancy permeating today’s downtown was still years away.

The city of Phoenix desired something special when they began planning the renovation and expansion of their convention center in 2002.They challenged Populous to create a building that was integrated into the urban core, beautifully reflecting the spirit of Phoenix and also serving as a functional and sustainable building.

INNOVATION. Because conditions in the urban core were less than optimal, both the original convention center and its 1985 addition were placed on large plazas elevated five feet above the surrounding street level. Their facades were also set back from the street, disconnecting the building and primary entrances both horizontally and vertically from their public faces. In short, the original facility was not integrated with the urban core of the city, but the new Phoenix Convention Center would change all that. The city of Phoenix – its urban edges, building heights, key axis and formal city street grids – guided the urban planning response for the replacement facility. Careful location of loading docks below and far above the street level made it possible to create a 360-degree building. With public pedestrian access on all four sides of the building, and with meeting facilities at street level, the building is active and engages pedestrians from all directions.

With primary exhibit halls strategically located below street level and glazed facades offering visual connection at all sides, the facility is a much more friendly and integrated asset in the urban core. Street grids were recreated to reinforce the pedestrian connections and also the existing scale of downtown Phoenix.

The Phoenix Convention Center can be considered a physical manifestation of Arizona. It captures the spirit of place in a design inspired by the intense light of the desert, water, colors and forms of the Southwestern expanse. Cantilevered shading structures reaching out over public streets, and the striated stone stair towers representing natural desert spires rising from the landscape, give pedestrians approaching the convention center from Third Street the sense of walking into a canyon.

IMPACT. The facility is not only beautiful and particularly representative of its place, but has become a functional and desirable gathering space for Phoenix and the guests it hosts. The convention business has been good for downtown Phoenix. Since the renovation, the Phoenix Convention Center’s revenue has increased 46 percent. The thoughtful configuration of the building not only makes for a dynamic pedestrian experience, it also makes it possible to accommodate nearly two million square feet of space in the urban core with the outcome that the building looks substantially smaller and more suitable for its environment.

The facility was designed with sustainability as a primary goal. In addition to water efficiency measures, energy efficiency considerations and waste management and building materials selection, at the forefront of the Phoenix Convention Center’s sustainability initiatives is a Green Housekeeping Program. It is meant to promote not only cleanliness of the program space, but is seen as an innovative operational strategy that also becomes a catalyst for sustainable education for Phoenix Convention Center Visitors.