Side Story: CSU’s Convocation Center


April 2009


Case Study
Chicago State University’s
Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center

Photo copyright 2008 Hedrich Blessing

Chicago State University (CSU) is a fully accredited public, urban institution located on 161 acres in a residential community on the south side of Chicago, 12 miles from the Loop. The current student enrollment is nearly 7,200.

The 160,000-square-foot Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center at CSU was designed as a multi-functional facility, primarily seating 6,000 spectators for intercollegiate athletic events or 7,000 for convocations and educational and entertainment events. The main floor is designed for a full NCAA-standard basketball court, or two cross courts of basketball/volleyball. The facility also accommodates a stage for non-athletic events. Athletic department offices, concession areas, a lobby, ticket booths, an athletic training center, dressing rooms, lockers, and storage and service areas support the multiple functions of the center.

Overall goals
The University’s Strategic Plan, developed in 1999–2000, called for a new Convocation Center to meet not only the university’s needs but also regional cultural needs. The facility would be available for community use and needed to be flexible to accommodate multiple kinds of events. CSU also wanted a unique, exciting building that fit within the context of the existing campus.

Existing site conditions
The site selected for the Convocation Center is located immediately south of the existing Athletic and P.E. Center, east of the major academic parking lots. Accounting for the diversity of academic, athletic and entertainment programs, the need for 600 spaces to serve Convocation Center functions was satisfied by higher utilization of the existing lots, particularly in the evening. Locating the Convocation Center on the south side of the campus had four distinct benefits:

  • It facilitates interaction with the adjacent Dickens Athletic and P.E Center
  • The building’s massing and scale both complement and reinforce the eastern edge of the campus
  • Its location serves to identify its presence from the adjacent Interstate 90/94, assisting in marketing its potential for community use
  • Siting it there preserved heavily landscaped areas elsewhere on the campus.

Due to its location in an urban area, there are multiple transportation modes serving CSU. A major transit line and a number of bus routes have stops near or on the campus. This contributes to the Convocation Center’s ability to serve the surrounding community effectively. The site selected for the Convocation Center completes the campus master plan, which is based on a network of closely interrelated structures each directly accessible to parking. Outdoor athletic facilities are located immediately south of the center, including new tennis courts replacing those previously located on the Convocation Center site.

Unique design
Building volume, form and height were derived from programmatic (rational) influences. Building materials, texture and color, glass versus solid, and light versus shadow (intuitive) elements combine to provide a facility fully contextual in its campus setting and uniquely capable of introducing natural daylight into its interior when appropriate. Deeply recessed expanses of glass at all four corners permit natural light to spill into the arena without the problems created by direct sunlight.

Masonry’s role
Similar masonry was carefully selected in an effort to integrate the new facility into the campus context. The use of brick also provides scale and warmth to an otherwise monumental building. On a field of Anaconda colored brick, a pattern composed in Ironstone Smooth and Walnut Velour adds visual interest. Soldier courses and a dotting of bricks laid in relief create texture.

Large clear spans require a structure of significant depth. This depth is expressed on the exterior in a lightweight metal enclosure adding a powerful and appropriately scaled “top” to the building. Visitors enter at grade through a large glass exposure lobby. The same brick used on the exterior is applied to the interior of the lobby, creating a unique space that runs the entire length of the center, accommodating large group interaction before and after events and during intermissions.

Masonry-clad cylindrical forms at either end of the building create a striking profile and house high-capacity stairs. Spectators enter the building at the midway point of the seating array and can take these stairs up or down to their seat location. The cylinders extend all the way around to the interior, bringing the masonry inside the arena. Lockers, the athletic training center, press/conference space, offices, equipment storage and the loading dock are located on the same level as the arena floor, thereby making access direct and convenient. The arena serves as the competition venue for the CSU Intercollegiate Basketball and Volleyball Programs. It can be quickly converted to a variety of non-athletic events including student assemblies, lectures, concerts, weddings, banquets and conferences. Furthermore, the center will host Olympic exhibition basketball games if Chicago wins the 2016 bid.

The Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center at Chicago State University was designed as a multi-functional facility primarily seating 6,000 spectators for intercollegiate athletic events but also accommodating 7,000 seats for convocations and other events.

The 160,000 SF building is sited adjacent to an existing athletic facility, and similar masonry was carefully selected in an effort to integrate the new facility into the campus context. The project team’s conviction from the outset was to create a design that fits in as opposed to stands out. Furthermore, the use of brick also provides scale and warmth to an otherwise monumental building.

On a field of “Anaconda” colored brick, a pattern composed in “Ironstone Smooth” and “Walnut Velour” adds visual interest. Soldier courses and a dotting of bricks laid in relief create texture. A large glass exposure lobby interjects transparency into the masonry, and an overhang metal roof adds a contemporary accent. The brick is carried through to the interior of the lobby, creating a unique space that can be used for pre-game activities and receptions.

Two spiral staircases at each end of the building are encased in brick cylinders that create a striking part of the building’s profile and are also visible from within the arena.

Owner: Illinois Capital Development Board, Springfield, IL
Client: Chicago State University, Chicago, IL
Design Architect: Loebl Schlossman & Hackl, Chicago, IL
Architect of Record: William E. Brazley & Associates, Ltd., Matteson, IL
MEP Engineer: Environmental Systems Design, Inc., Chicago, IL
Structural Engineering: Tylk Gustafson Reckers Wilson Andrews, LLC, Chicago, IL
Civil Engineer: Landmark Engineering Corporation, Palos Hills, IL
Cost Consulting: Construction Cost Systems, Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, IL
General Contractor: Castle Construction Corporation, Markham, IL
Masonry Contractor:  G. A. G. Masonry, Inc., Chicago, IL

Founded in 1925, Loebl Schlossman & Hackl is a Chicago-based architecture, planning and interior design firm specializing in Higher Education, Healthcare, Office / Corporate, and Retail / Mixed-Use projects. The firm has been recognized with over 125 regional and national awards. For further information, please contact Nicole Fisher at 312.565.1800 or Visit us on the web at

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