Convention Center Evolution: Investing in Flexibility

Convention Center Evolution: Investing in Flexibility

By Emery Leonard, Associate Principal, tvsdesign

Emery Leonard

When making a financial investment in the architecture and interiors of a convention facility, centers look to maximize the functionality and flexibility of their ‘brick and mortar’ investment to better suit the needs of their clients. Architects and designers often assist in realizing targeted renovations that enhance existing business while strategically capturing new business. While new, ground-up facilities take advantage of larger design configurations to boost flexibility, they also consider the same, smaller moves that existing centers are leveraging.

New, large facilities incorporate long-span structure for column-free space, which means no blocked sight-lines and fewer layout limitations for shows, meetings and other events. Designs that seamlessly interconnect these now column-free spaces are attractive to larger events because they facilitate an uninterrupted guest experience from exhibit to exhibit. This push towards openness and connectivity is not just limited to new facilities—existing facilities are also incorporating small additions and expansions to achieve similar results.

Convention Center Evolution

When the events market began to shift away from exhibit space in favor of meeting and banquet space, several facilities such as the Georgia World Congress Center and the Orange County Convention Center reconsidered how to better utilize exhibit space for this new client preference. Cleverly inserting new moveable walls into existing exhibit space opened up more use potential, giving the space the flexibility to be tailored to different event and meeting sizes with multiple configurations without sacrificing overall exhibit use. Additionally, prefunction space can be furnished for break-out business by day and quickly transformed into a wine bar by night by using controllable lighting and a discrete hand sink located nearby, as seen at Cobo Center in Detroit.

More and more, data is being used to target facility enhancements like these. Gathering and analyzing data can provide valuable insight to behavior and movement patterns to give a facility actionable information. Wireless hotspot usage can be examined for opportunities to enhance the guest experience with convenient placement of seating, coffee and concessions—both temporary and fixed. It can be used to test if placing pop-up activations within expo hall booth layouts drives exhibit visitation by measuring attendance in the immediate vicinity of the pop-up. Data is a powerful tool in designing a guest experience, both through informing temporary services/amenities, and if profitable, through permanent construction.

Convention Center Evolution 2

Other than for data gathering, technology can also enhance flexibility through wireless services, programmable video screens, lighting controls and mobile applications. Historically due to technical limitations, lighting designs included two types: one bright and simple to use, and another warmer and dimmable for hospitality settings. Current advances in LED lighting allow for greater control in a single fixture, plus energy savings and a long lifespan. Light fixtures are now individually addressable and have multiple control settings. The “Internet of Things’ is advancing new, similar changes to other outdated technologies.

Convention Center Evolution 3

Flexibility is a tool for maximizing face-to-face interaction by a nimble usage of space that meets the changing needs of a changing event culture. New spaces must be able to transition from exhibit to ballroom to meeting rooms and must be able to transform from formal to informal to support multiple configurations. Events are looking to get the most out of ever brick and mortar investment—large and small alike.


About tvsdesign
Fifty years of innovation and impact. Founded in 1968, tvsdesign is an award-winning architecture and design firm headquartered in Atlanta, GA with global project expertise. With a diverse team of more than 150 employees, tvsdesign’s collaborative, holistic approach imagines more for clients. tvsdesign creates high performance, high impact environments that help individuals, businesses and communities thrive. For more information, please visit, or connect with us @tvsdesign.

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