BMO Centre

Calgary, Canada
Opened in 2024
Architecture, Interior Design
Each year, over one million people descend on Calgary to attend The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. The Calgary Stampede is 10 days of rodeos, races, parades and performances from some of the biggest names in live entertainment. Our challenge, alongside Stantec and S2 Architecture, was to take the energy of this larger-than-life festival and capture it in the form of a building.

Located in Stampede Park, close to Downtown Calgary, the BMO Centre first opened in 1982. After years of operating at a high capacity, it became clear there was demand for more convention space in the city.  

The Calgary Stampede, operator of the BMO Centre, led a $500 million expansion of the building, which was completed in 2024. With over one million square feet of total floor space, including 350,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space, it has more than doubled the rentable area of the original building to make it the largest conference facility in Western Canada, and second largest in the country.

As design architect for the project, the intent of Populous’ new design was about much more than increasing floor space. We have been involved in delivering every aspect of the project, transforming the BMO Centre into an international icon of modern architecture — one that is firmly rooted in Calgary’s culture and traditions.

Each year, the BMO Centre sits in the middle of one of the wildest festivals on the face of the earth: the Calgary Stampede. A kaleidoscope of Canadian culture, it features one of the biggest rodeos in the world, vibrant celebrations of Calgary’s indigenous First Nations and concerts from global megastars like Katy Perry, Motley Crue and the Jonas Brothers. The event has been the source of an abundance of inspiration for the Populous team.




Grit and Glamour 

Our architects visited the Stampede for its full 10-day program so that they could fully immerse themselves in the spirit of the festival — and bring some of that spirit back with them. One of their key takeaways was the contrast of components on display, particularly the way the earthy agricultural elements are juxtaposed with the glamorous attire of the participants. This was encapsulated in one key image: a cattle wrangler crashing into the dirt as a reflection of sunlight flashes from his polished belt buckle. Clad in shimmering copper panels, the sweeping form of the convention center’s canopy rises over the darker earthy tones of the lower levels in a direct response to this dramatic theme. 

Inside, Populous took further cues from the contrasting relationship between rugged Western culture and modern elegance. At the heart of the BMO Centre, convention goers can gather around the fire, as in the Western tradition — except here the fire is contained inside Canada’s largest fireplace, a modern sculpture of black iron, steel and copper that rises up 70 feet. And the ‘fire’ isn’t really fire at all; it’s modern water vapor technology, used to safely mimic roaring flames. 

There are thoughtful touches like this throughout the space, from a handmade wooden ceiling structure inspired by the patterns of indigenous blankets, to window panels that create the silhouetted effect of sunlight streaming through the wooden boards of a barn wall. A large central bar takes its shape from the elegant swoop of a lasso, while the Stampede’s iconic ‘Neon Cowboy’ has been recreated as a 1:1 scale marquee installation. Adding layers of meaning to a space like this is vital because storylines help convention centers stand out in a marketplace filled with buildings that can often be dull and lifeless.  

BMO Centre sets the precedent for future convention centers, synthesizing form, functionality and thoughtful design to provide world-class meeting facilities while engaging and enriching the community of Calgary.

Michael Lockwood

Senior Principal

Meticulously laid out 

Employing a stacked concept, we have made the use of internal space as efficient as possible. Attendees at a large convention with a packed agenda can move easily from the exhibition spaces to the ballroom to the meeting rooms, covering minimal distances. The meeting rooms on the BMO Centre’s second floor have been grouped into four neighborhoods, with flexible pre-function spaces outside them where delegates can mingle, grab a coffee and catch up on emails using the superfast WiFi that’s available throughout the venue. 

Increasing the efficiency of the internal layout has also had benefits externally. Even though the building’s rentable floor space has doubled, we have actually managed to increase the space available outside too, meaning more festival space for the Stampede and more community space throughout the rest of the year. 

The majority of the project was designed virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, with our team collaborating through video calls and leading the client through the development process remotely. A large amount of the construction also happened during the pandemic. Delivered on time and on budget — despite these extraordinary challenges — the project has been a resounding success. It is estimated that the BMO Centre will bring an extra $700 million into the Canadian economy. Before it had even officially opened, some of the building’s exhibition spaces had been booked out until 2032. 

Disciplines Provided at BMO Centre

  • Architecture


    The best convention centers are international architectural icons. Populous designed the BMO Centre to be exactly that, distilling Calgary’s “spirit of place” into a single built form. It needed to be emblematic of Calgary, a synergy of the city’s modernity and its western traditions. With a nod to the Stampede, the exterior showcases a striking contrast between earthy agricultural elements and shining contemporary accents, embodied by gleaming copper panels set against darker tones. This visual narrative, inspired by the festival's gritty yet glamorous essence, is exemplified by the dramatic swoop of the canopy.

    As beautiful as the building is, it is also extremely efficient, with a stacked layout that optimizes the internal space usage. Attendees can seamlessly navigate between exhibition spaces, ballrooms and meeting rooms, with natural stopping points along the way that encourage interaction. This strategic design extends externally, increasing festival and community space while doubling the rentable floor area.

  • Interior Design

    Interior Design

    Populous took the same approach to the interior design of the building as with the exterior’s theme of ‘grit and glamour.’ Our team sought to include layers of meaning when designing each internal space to make the experience of attending an event or convention memorable. We carried out ‘experience audits,’ asking questions like “what impression would the BMO Centre make on a dentist from Florida visiting a convention for three days?”

    We want participants to take the story of Calgary home with them. This led to standout features, like the 70-foot central fireplace, or the swooping lasso-shaped bar, but also subtler touches, like the ceiling of the ballroom, which is an intricate wooden structure reminiscent of the woven patterns found on traditional First Nations blankets.

Facts & Figures

  • Expansion Square Footage


  • New Meeting Rooms


  • New Ballrooms


10 items.
  • Michael Lockwood Senior Principal San Francisco
  • Carrie Rezac Senior Principal, Senior Architect Kansas City
  • Adam Paulitsch Principal, Architect Kansas City
  • Mason Paoli Principal, Interior Design Director – Kansas City Kansas City
  • Robert Clement Associate Principal, Senior Architect Kansas City
  • Derek Sommers Associate Principal, Architecture Designer III Kansas City
  • Colleen Cassidy Senior Associate, Architect Kansas City
  • Paige Olson-Murdock Associate, Interior Designer Kansas City
  • Felicia Balestrere Senior Associate, Interior Designer Kansas City
  • Chad Hemmerling Senior Associate, Architecture Designer II Kansas City

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