“Form follows function” is never truer said than for the planning of a convention centre .. or center.
Most buildings are occupied by one tenant for one purpose, such as offices. As a convention centre has different tenants every day, using the building for different types of event, it needs to be as flexible as possible, to meet the exact needs of each individual customer. The design must meet the needs of the market and enable the operator to run the building successfully for all types of event.
The first steps in planning a convention centre are:
- identify the objectives for the destination,
- establish the market opportunities in terms of types of event
- agree the parameters for the operation of the building,
- prepare the preliminary stages of the business plan.
The market and different events for which the building will be used will vary for a particular city, country and business objective. Once these are established and agreed through feasibility and market research then a detailed brief can be prepared, which specifies the range of facilities within the building and the operational parameters for all aspects of the building. This brief will be the guideline for the detailed design and construction process and as such, is a key document.
The brief/ specification enable an initial budget to be estimated. Funding can come from many sources, but in the vast majority of cases, convention centres are funded largely through the public purse, either at local or national level. The business plan outlining the potential return in revenue, profit and economic impact is crucial in making the case to secure funding
Once funding is in place the design team can be appointed, often following an international competition. During detailed design we (TRS) contribute as the end user which includes both the customer and the operator. In this way, form will truly follow function. The detailed design can be lengthy as these building types are complex and individual.
Simultaneously to the design process, the operation and marketing of the building should be planned. Conferences, especially international association events, often have long lead times and a new convention centre needs to market itself long before opening, in order to have such events in the opening year. Budgeting and business planning for the pre-opening period is vital.
Once the design is complete and construction is underway, it is important to programme in at least three months after the planned completion and handover date, for the operations team to settle into the building, have practice events and generally make sure all the systems are operating correctly. It is also prudent to have a buffer period between the reported completion date and the first commercial event, as it is extremely common for the construction to overrun.
Time, Cost and Quality are key criteria with different priorities at different stages of the project. The truly end-user focused project will have quality and ‘fit for purpose’ as the overriding factor although cost often becomes the main factor, resulting in the need for ‘value engineering’. It is important to remember a cut in the capital cost could have serious consequences on the operational aspects, which only come to light after the design and construction teams have moved on to other projects.
The most important factor in planning a convention centre is to have expert end user input throughout the project.