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Unconventional Convention Center

Expansion, renovation, LEED certification and Texas’ biggest ballroom

Hbgcc Feb18 6

Downtown San Antonio will never be the same after the expansion and renovation of the Henry B. González Convention Center (HBGCC). This 1.3 million-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility breathes new life into the iconic downtown scene with a massive transformation.

Re-energizing the 46-year-old former facility with a focus on flexibility, connectivity and sustainability, the $325 million expansion marks the largest, single-capital improvement project in the City of San Antonio’s history and increases its footprint significantly.

The convention center expansion includes more than 800,000 square feet of new construction and more than 78,000 square feet of renovation. The expansion comprises 260,000 square feet of new exhibition space, along with a 54,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest ballroom of its kind in Texas. All of this was done with the hope of attracting more and larger-sized conventions.

In addition to the expansion, the convention center design team architects (Marmon Mok, San Antonio, and Populous, Kansas City, Mo.) were challenged to find a creative way to integrate the convention center into Hemisfair Park, which was also redesigned. According to designers at Populous, “The solution for San Antonio captures the charm of the city in a fresh, forward-looking fashion representative of the city’s trajectory for the future.”

Photo courtesy of Christy Radecic


Because of the HBGCC’s size, and the need to design and build the project in a tight schedule, which required working in and around an operation building integral to the city’s hospitality business, a design-build approach was taken for it. The design-builders consisted of the team of AECOM Hunt, Phoenix, and Zachry Construction, San Antonio. Marmon Mok and Populous collaborated on the concepts, themes, palettes and design elements to bring cohesiveness to the center’s design. “Marmon Mok and Populous worked together on elements of design such as the perforated metal screening, carpet design motifs, etc.,” says Angel Garcia, AIA, LEED AP, designer and associate partner at Marmon Mok. “As the local architect, Marmon Mok also brought special sensibility and knowledge of San Antonio to infuse the project with a contemporary and sophisticated expression of the local flavor and culture.”

The primary goals were to create contiguous space; gain the ability to host multiple shows simultaneously and replace the antiquated west building to allow for expansion of Hemisfair Park—all while maintaining continuous operations. The expansion connects directly to the existing pre-function areas, establishing a circulation loop that conveniently links all exhibit halls, meeting rooms and ballrooms. In addition, interactive wayfinding and digital signage allows meeting planners to better brand their events efficiently.

Photo courtesy of Zac Seewald

By shifting the building east, the convention center now opens up to the new Hemisfair Park, while exposing the River Walk to convention attendees to create a definitive sense of place. Just inside the main entrance, the largest public indoor courtyard space in the city has been added to provide greater connectivity to the city’s urban core, while giving convention center visitors an incredible space to relax and refresh. This blending of the indoors and out was also carried out with the addition of balconies that allow attendees sweeping views of San Antonio.

The HBGCC’s grand entry welcomes guests with a civic-scaled entry plaza and drop-off area, and will act as a functional crossroads, becoming a hub for activity, social engagement and hospitality. “Guests circulate directly into the existing link bridge to access either the new ground-level prefunction space along the north edge of the existing exhibit halls C and D, or the existing concourse level prefunction space via existing stairs and escalators,” says Garcia. “The new prefunction space connecting the grand lobby and park entry not only provides clear and functional ground-level access to existing exhibit halls C and D, it was also programmed to provide food service and other amenities that will mitigate walking distances by providing architectural activation.”

One of the primary challenges of the existing facility was the lack of clarity of where the front door was located. Hunt-Zachry worked with the owner and developed a concept to push out one of the meeting rooms and cantilever it over two lanes of traffic on Market Street. Billed as “The Meeting Room of the Future,” the cantilevered room includes the latest innovations in technology and state-of-the-art meeting features. It also frames the main entry into the new grand lobby, providing clarity as to where the front door of the convention center is.


“The project includes unique architectural metals throughout the facility including ornamental stair and balcony railings, perforated metal panels on the exterior enclosure, aluminum trellis canopies, ornamental metal gates, decorative formed metal shapes [from San Antonio-based LJD Construction], weathering steel, a one-of-a-kind metal artwork sculpture [from Sun Valley, Calif.-based Carlson Arts and Los Angeles-based Christian Moeller] along the roof of the building façade to mimic desert cactus, and much more,” says Cliff Toliver, AECOM Hunt project director.

Kovach Building Enclosures, Chandler, Ariz., provided HBGCC’s metal panels, glass, louvers, perforated metal screening and wraps. The superstructure’s structural steel was supplied by Oklahoma City-based W&W Steel|AFCO Steel. Many of the HBGCC’s metal building components such as its steel stairs, perforated screen structural steel, and curtainwall were erected by Patriot Erectors Inc., Trellis Dripping Springs, Texas. Site decorative metals were supplied by JSR Inc., Schertz, Texas, and ISEC Inc., Greenwood Village, Colo. Kansas City-based Livers Bronze supplied the decorative metal handrails and the decorative metal mesh was supplied by ISEC.

Photo courtesy of Zac Seewald

The entire building is framed in steel. “The team utilized insulated metal wall panels for the wall and soffit cladding of the building at the major entrances to the building to accentuate the entry,” says Garcia, “using standard width and length profiles fabricated by Kovach Building Enclosures maintain economy. The color palette of the panels was custom to reflect the vibrant local culture. [Aluminum composite] column covers [also from Kovach Building Enclosures] were used on the interior and exterior of the building.”

The design team needed to provide an elegant solution to screening multiple areas of the building. Some screens would serve the purpose of view control, while others would be used as solar screens. On the east side of the building where the new delivery dock for the convention center is located, the custom perforated metal screen serves as a visual barrier for pedestrians and vehicles traveling along side. At multiple locations where exterior stairs are located, the screens serve to conceal the stairs and at the west entry to the building facing the Hemisfair Park, the screen becomes a signature brise soleil to reduce heat gain and is a solar deflector for the west-facing glass.

“The custom pattern design for the holes of the metal screens is a reinterpretation of the old ‘Confluence of Civilizations’ theme that was adopted for the original Henry B. González Convention Center for the 1968 HemisFair,” Garcia says. “Confluence or the coming together or the crossroads of multitudes of people and cultures are represented through the criss-crossing of hole patterns. The perforated metal panels are made of 0.025-aluminum and have a three-coat Kynar 500 coating. They were fabricated by Kovach Building Enclosures. The hanging mechanism is the Populous-Marmon Mok team’s proprietary design and it consists of a series of hook/slits along the edges of the panels that engage on to tabs along the length of aluminum Tees anchored to painted tube steel substructure.”

To manage the schedule effectively for all this, the decisions process, design deliverables, and construction activities required detailed coordination and communication. “From the moment the design-build team began work on the technical proposal, we looked for every opportunity to bring transparency to our process,” Toliver says. “We utilized advanced technology and state-of-the-art visualization techniques to communicate a wide range of information including architectural renderings, facility plans, 3-D diagrams to explain circulation patterns, construction sequencing and schedule, budget information and add-alternate options for real-time decision making.”

The HBGCC has received the 2017 AIA San Antonio Mayor’s Choice Award and the Design Build Institute of America National Award of Merit 2016.

Photo courtesy of Christy Radecic