A Brutalist Convention Center Is Renovated to Spark Area Redevelopment and Draw More Visitors to the City

4th Place, Whole Building

Constructed in 1974, Renasant Convention Center in Memphis, Tenn., is directly connected to The Cannon Center for Performing Arts, which opened in 2003. Upon completion of The Cannon Center, city leaders began thinking about renovations to the Brutalist convention center. In 2017, design plans were commissioned to create more than $200 million of much-needed improvements, which were completed in January 2021.

Before the transformation, visitors were confronted with a stark concrete structure with its back turned toward the Mississippi River. Now, passing over the river through the Mighty Lights, the convention center welcomes visitors to Memphis with a new metal panel exterior, expansive terraces and a curtainwall glowing with the setting sun. The main goals for the renovation were to attract larger conventions, spark interest in redevelopment of the historic Pinch District, open views to the Mississippi River and bring the outdoors into the building.

Visitors were previously greeted on the subsurface Parking Level with a low ceiling, leading to an unassuming painted concrete block entrance. In creating a sense of arrival, the deteriorating ceiling was removed, exposing the beautiful concrete waffle slab with a high concentration of decorative lighting over the new glass entrance to the lobby. The newly defined Main Street entrance is visible from the Lower Hall Lobby, drawing visitors up to the Grand Concourse. By removing the mezzanine on this level, a visual connection was created between Main Street and Front Street. As visitors make their way up to the Exhibit Hall Level, the South Concourse connects the buildings east and west sides, punctuated by glass jewel boxes overlooking Main Street and the river.

The existing meeting spaces weren’t flexible and didn’t meet current desires of event planners. The ground-floor and mezzanine-level meeting rooms were long narrow spaces with only 9-foot ceilings. To address this, the mezzanine level was replaced with 15 flexible meeting rooms with high ceilings, including two boardrooms with layering of curtainwall and terra-cotta screen. Creating flanking concourses and adding operable partitions allows the former South Hall to be used for banquets, award events or divided into 10 meeting rooms. The addition of meeting rooms on the west side of Front Street brings a previously unusable outdoor space into the offering.

The north end of the building has been replaced with two levels of loading docks and service spaces, allowing the convention center to host more events simultaneously.

Inspired by the Mississippi River, Memphis’ intertwining rail lines, the local hardwood industry and the famed music scene, hotel- quality finishes were brought into the common areas, meeting rooms and exhibit spaces.

“I gasped at the before-and-after for this project. Projects of this scale are rare and often transformational on a civic scale. Modernization of the envelope is dramatic, and daylighting the concourse/meeting rooms is a highly valuable move toward the psychology of conference participants. The project’s ability to reconnect with the river shows tactful urban design, especially with the remaining interstate adjacency.”

Ross Welch, AIA, NOMA, LEED Green Associate, associate, Trivers, Metamorphosis Awards Judge

Retrofit Team

METAMORPHOSIS AWARD WINNER and DESIGN ARCHITECT/ARCHITECT OF RECORD: LRK

ASSOCIATE ARCHITECTS: tvs Design and Bounds & Gillespie Architects

MP/FP ENGINEER: Smith Seckman Reid Inc.

ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: Innovative Engineering Services LLC

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Chad Stewart & Associates Inc.

INTERIOR DESIGNERS: LRK and tvs Design

LIGHTING CONSULTANT: CM Kling + Associates Inc.

BUILDING ENVELOPE: Walter P. Moore

GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Yates Construction

Materials

ACOUSTICAL CEILING TILE: Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions

SIMULATED WOOD CEILING: Hunter Douglas Architectural and Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions

ALUMINUM COMPOSITE PANELS: etalbond

ENTRY DOORS AND CURTAINWALL: EFCO

FLOORING AND CARPET: Milliken

INSULATED METAL WALL PANELS: Kingspan

LIGHTING: VODE, Interlux, Focal Point, Winona, Targetti and LSI

ROOFING: Carlisle Syntec

TERRA-COTTA WALL SYSTEM: Shildan Group

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