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Creating an Identity for the Albuquerque Convention Center

Albuquerque Convention Center Architectural Objectives

“A lot of convention centers I visit around the country, you have no idea if you’re in one city or another. I wanted to make this unique to us, make it look like us and feel like us, so people have that real special feeling they can’t get in other cities."

~Mayor Richard J. Berry, via Albuquerque Journal

When Mayor Richard J. Berry announced his initiative ABQ the Plan―a series of projects that invests in Albuquerque's assets―one of the objectives was to renovate the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Built as a key centerpiece of the City’s Urban Renewal Program during the ‘60s, the Convention Center's brutalist aesthetic lost its ability sell Albuquerque's unique southwestern culture. The city desired a design that would modernize the facility while still honoring Albuquerque's heritage.

Objectives for the Convention Center included:

  1. Make it more attractive to visitors and improve operations for events
  2. Achieve community support and a sense of ownership
  3. Remain within a budget of $20 million
  4. Establish a roadmap for improvements
  5. Create a visitor experience based on Albuquerque's unique identity

New Mexico Imagery Inspired the Convention Center Design

ABQ Convention Center Design Inspiration

To achieve a modern aesthetic, design principal Bill Sabatini and his team looked to the Territorial Style to bridge past and future as it had done at the end of the 19th century with manufactured, dimensional materials and more advanced building methods brought to the west by the railroad.

A study of contrasts informed by the city's unique character―its colors, its textures, its climate, its culture―led to the final design.

“The renovated center now reflects Albuquerque’s unique culture, enhances the city’s assets and helps meeting planners view Albuquerque as a ‘must-see’ convention destination.”

~NAIOP New Mexico, 2015 Chairman's Award Presentation

Before and After

Before and After

The Convention Center renovation integrated "mini-projects", like renovating the outdated kitchen and opening ballrooms to a new outdoor balcony, over a two-phase construction schedule to keep the facility fully operational and open to the public.

The most complex renovation involved creating a significant contemporary entry that allows natural light to flood the building interior, establishes a strong connection to the plaza, and provides a future focused civic presence true to New Mexico.

The two-phase renovation has improved amenities throughout the facility to support large events and promote a strong identity for the City. The first phase was completed in January 2013, and the second phase was completed in January 2015. In total, 8,600sf were added and another 226,000sf remodeled.

ABQ Convention Center entrance at night

"I am still in awe of the transformation of the entrance to the facility and the outdoor balcony will finally give us the opportunity to expose guests to our beautiful skies and weather. I am proud to show off our new Convention Center to clients and fellow planners, and their reaction has been amazing to see."

~Laura Kesselman, Chair, Board of Directors, Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau


Albuquerque Convention Center Wins National ENR Award, Best of the Best Renovation/Restoration

ABQ Convention Center ENR Award, Best of the Best

Albuquerque Convention Center project page