BOK Centre: César Pelli’s Contemporary Glass, Concrete and Steel Arena in Oklahoma

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Every country around the world has development goals that are set to be achieved over a certain period of time, mostly very long-term. Tulsa County in Oklahoma, United States has development goals dubbed Vision 2025. Most of the goals revolve around development of the county with regards to infrastructure, building and construction as well as social and economic improvements of the location and its residents. To put a statement on the commitment of the county towards the millennial development goals, the BOK Centre was built and designed as the flagship project towards Vision 2025. Designed by Architect César Pelli, this multi-purpose arena and primary indoor sports and events venue is a crowd-puller and in itself, an architectural signature in a vibrant city.

The architects designed a multi-purpose venue that would serve several functions including football, hockey, basketball, and musical concerts among many other fits. The BOK Centre which sits a maximum of 19, 199 people was completed in 2008 at a cost of $196 million with most of the funding coming from the City of Tulsa. Architect César Pelli indicates that this design was inspired by the culture of the people of Oklahoma with details like the Native American deco-style taking center stage. However, the building’s cultural values did not hinder the designer from providing a contemporary structure.

Located in downtown Tulsa, the arena draws a lot of people from Tulsa and the larger Oklahoma City. The modern design consists of a swirling spiral of stainless steel and glass walls which tilt inwards at certain points around the arena.

The sweeping circular elements are so constant in the exterior and interior of the project. The glass façades consists of 160 kg panels which wrap around the building while leaning at a five-degree angle. The 1,600 glass panels all total up to make the 180 metre long iconic curving glass wall which reaches a height of more than 30 metres above grade. 33,000 stainless steel panels complete the spiralling form of the building’s circumference.

The inspiration for this structure comes from the architectural language of both the natural and built surroundings around it. The architects introduced curves into their design because of the bend of the Arkansas River and the arc of Tulsa’s curvilinear highways. One of the most treasured aspects of the Native American heritage in Tulsa is their round tribal dwellings which were once used in Midwestern states in the United States; a heritage which César Pelli says inspired the curvilinear form of the whole centre.

Views from every part of the building and some of the arena seats through the glass wall provide a strong connection between the city, the arena and its occupants. Despite having the expansive glass wall, glare was dealt with by fitting half of the glass wall with a ceramic frit pattern at various sports where glare would pose negative impacts to people.

The glass wall means a lot of daylight is provided inside the building at daytime while the night is a game of color for the iconic wall which was fitted with a system of 66 integrated metal halide lamps that can glow in 1,000 different hues through the night.

Tulsa County is located in a region that is so tornado-prone that a building of this size would never ignore that natural hazard. The building’s multiple layers of laminated glass and reinforced wall support structure means it can withstand winds speeding at over 160 kilometres per hour.

The interiors borrow a lot from the motion created by the circular elements on the exterior and goes further to build upon that theme with staircases that wrap around a section of the building from the main lobby.

Aside from accommodating multiple arenas, the BOK Centre has 37 public restrooms which include 12 for men, 16 for women and 9 for families all culminating to a total of 300 toilets and urinals. Dressing rooms with wooden lockers, hydrotherapy and workout rooms, a players’ lounge, locker rooms for game officials, and office space for coaches, trainers, and equipment managers are also located within the building. 14 concession outlets around the building act as small restaurants where people can buy food and beverages.

The Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) bought the naming rights to the building that is now home to the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League). It’s a facility that will go on to host several pre-season games for the NBA and tens of games in the college basketball match-ups. Even as Tulsa County continues to chase the development goals for Vision 2025, it is difficult not to see the successes that the BOK Centre has brought with it. The contemporary facility has tabled a lot of attention; it will get easier and easier to attract both national and regional sporting tournaments to this impressive work by César Pelli.

Project Information
Architects: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
Client: City of Tulsa
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Size: 55,000 sqm
Completed: 2008
Photography: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Daniel JeffriesAloma AndersonBobby AcreeBrett Morrison

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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