Coming out of the 3-day Green Building Focus conference last week, I thought I’d post a few images of our local convention center, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, located just north of the I-20/I-59 connector from the CBD. An example of many maxims of 1960’s “urban renewal” thinking, this complex when completed in 1976 after 6 years construction was among the top 20 largest convention centers in the nation, and had a total price tag of almost $400 M in today’s money. Intended as a true “civic center”, with theatre, exhibition, sports, restaurant, and performance arranged around a courtyard, its design–one of 1966’s major national competitions–was pretty well received at the time. Bhamwiki has an excellent history of the competition here.
While the forms themselves may be described as somewhat “brutalist”, with their large, unrelieved masses, lack of human scale, and hostile attitude to the street and any existing fabric, at this point in history one can appreciate the sculptural quality of some of the massing and space-making. The actual concrete panels and other materials feel worn and somewhat cheap, however–and of course the silly retro-lamps and sad little planters recently placed around the courtyard to “soften” things need to be replaced with accessories more appropriate to the scale of the surroundings. The courtyard itself–cut off from the surrounding streets, almost unknown to visitors and citizens alike unless you have occasion to attend an event here–was never truly civic. It is too isolated, too closed from the day-to-day activity of a major city around it. Not to mention the terrible idea to locate the interstate connector between the historic downtown and the complex.
As many of us know, there have been major changes suggested for the BJCC in recent years, including the addition of a major domed stadium and an entertainment district, and the submerging of the interstate connector. While the complex would be well served by an expansion and general updating in my opinion, let’s take a little time to appreciate the earnest efforts of Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham, architects (now defunct) from Philadelphia, PA—which have given us a pretty unique urban environment, albeit it one with some serious flaws. It’s a little bit of Brasilia in Birmingham.
In the meantime, let’s order some new light posts and planters.