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McCormick Place Event Center

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Shared By

Sara Johnson, Hanley Wood Media

Project Name

McCormick Place Event Center

Year Completed



300,000 sq. feet


Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, DePaul University

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Project Description


This project adds a mid-size venue that doubles as an arena for DePaul University basketball to McCormick Place, the country’s largest convention center. The new event center is part of a redevelopment plan to transform the surrounding neighborhood into a vibrant entertainment district with new dining and entertainment venues, hotels and streetscapes. The building’s design is contemporary, but it grows from a study of the adjacent neighborhoods. Located at the boundary of the pedestrian-scaled Prairie District and the larger scale of the convention center campus, the event center creates a transition between the two.

The event center’s main design feature is an inventive roof that swells upward over the arena seating, recalling some of Chicago’s great gathering spaces like Adler and Sullivan’s Auditorium Theater and the Navy Pier Grand Ballroom. With this elegant curving light gray membrane roof and lightweight glass walls, the building follows in the Chicago tradition of the lyrical structure, or engineering raised to the level of art. The smooth, arching canopy has long dramatic rising arcs that will be lit at night, creating an instantly recognizable image for the new event center.

Smaller scale vertically corrugated galvanized metal pavilions are located intermittently around the building. The pavilions house restrooms, concessions support spaces, stairs and elevators. At night, the glass will be lit from behind, its glow visible to pedestrians at the street level and patrons in the main concourse.

The arena is located on the site’s most public spot, on the corner of prominent streets Cermak and Indiana. The building’s transparent facades help to create an architecture of experience in which the activity energy and excitement of the arena is felt on the street. Arena seating parts at the southwest corner, offering passersby a glimpse of the events inside, as well as the Demon Deck — a cantilevered section of seats reserved for student fans of the DePaul Blue Demons.

The event level of the 10,600-seat arena is one story below street level, putting the activity of the concourse circulation and the grand stair adjacent to the sidewalks. Some of the event center’s amenities may be accessible directly from the street. Support spaces such as loading docks, mechanical spaces, backstage areas, and locker rooms are hidden away. However, restaurants, retail, games, and concerts are at street level — accessible and transparent — contributing to the life of the neighborhood.
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