Pelli brings his vision to Tulsa with events center

November 01, 2004 |

Cesar Pelli, whose design credits include the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — at the time of their completion in 1998 the world's tallest towers — is the architect for a 530,000-sf events center in Tulsa, Okla. It marks Pelli's first involvement with this type of building.

Pelli came to Tulsa in September to unveil his design for the $143 million elliptically shaped facility. "We wanted to create a sense of movement, a dynamic feeling," he says of the design.

The curved nature of the building is not a direct reference to domed huts associated with Oklahoma's rich Native American tradition, Pelli says. However, he "likes to internalize all the qualities of a place, so they flow naturally into the design, without being purposely guided." Other sources of inspiration were the "freshness and lightness" of Tulsa's Art Deco-styled buildings, and the Arkansas River that flows through the city.

Notwithstanding these characteristics, he says the events center will be "very much a 21st Century building that is capable of accommodating more than only sports events."

While this is his first events center project, Pelli notes that some of its features will be similar to those of his Aronoff Center for the Arts in Cincinnati. "We are quite familiar with how to bring large groups of people together and make it exciting," the 78-year-old architect says.

Pelli is pleased that downtown Tulsa has retained its best buildings and says that it is ready to accept growth, which can be facilitated in part by building on sites that are now parking lots.

The events center's project/construction manager is a joint venture of Tulsa-based Flintco Inc. and Houston-based Manhattan Construction Co.

Matrix Architects, Engineers, Planners, a 50-person Tulsa firm, holds the contract for the project. Matrix initially brought Charlotte, N.C.-based Odell Associates into the picture to tap its experience with public assembly facilities. Matrix and Odell then sought a "signature architect to put Tulsa on the map," says Steve Alter, president of Matrix. "We spent more than a year crafting the ideal team for this project," he says.

A "top 10" list of architects was developed. "We kept coming back to Pelli for being an urban place-maker," Alter says. When contact was made with Pelli's New Haven, Conn., office, "Cesar said he would love to be involved," Alter says.

Matrix and Odell also decided that an overall director was needed to coordinate the work of project team members. Matrix hired Curtis Smith for this assignment. While he was with Cambridge, Mass.-based architect The Stubbins Associates, Smith directed 28 entities involved with building the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Catalytic capabilities

The events center is intended to become a catalyst for other nearby development. Matrix and Pelli are already working on a plan for a $40 million renovation and expansion of the 227,000-sf Tulsa Convention Center across the street. It will add a new floor that includes a large ballroom. When the events center is completed, the convention center's arena functions will be transferred to the new building. Tulsa hopes its 18,000-seat arena will enable the city to attract a professional hockey franchise, and to host NCAA playoff games.

In addition, library officials say they plan to seek approval for a new central library that would be built four blocks away. And a Federal building three blocks from the events center might become a factor in the area's upgrading process if the city were to acquire it from the Federal government. The building was originally a post office and is now a courts facility.

The events center and the convention center renovation are underwritten by a $850 million Tulsa County financing package authorized in a September 2003 referendum. Approval of the "Vision 2025" plan followed the rejection of two earlier capital improvement referenda by the city of Tulsa.

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