The Greater Columbus Convention Center
400 North High Street
Ohio 43215

(Peter) Eisenman Architects with Richard Trott & Partners 1993

Though Peter Eisenman is certainly one of the better known names in architecture today, it was not until recently that he began to build major structures, since at first he was primarily known both for his writing and small residence commissions. One of his first major works was the Wexner Center (Columbus, OH 1989), a building which went on to receive much press and served as a tangible showpiece for the Deconstructivist style which had first come to most people's attention at the New York Museum of Modern Art's exhibition a year earlier. Perhaps due to the amount of press that the Wexner Center received, and the manner in which that building managed to place Columbus in the architectural limelight, Eisenman was commissioned soon afterwards to design the Greater Columbus Convention Center, only miles away from the Wexner Center.

Approaching the Convention Center, and walking through its long main corridor, one can't help but make comparisons to his two other works in Ohio (the Wexner Center in Columbus and the Aronoff Center for Design in Cincinnati). From the opposite side of High Street, one can see how the building's façade is separated into different volumes (perhaps in an attempt to bring the elongated building which covers 600,000 square feet, down to human scale), much in the same manner as the façade in Cincinnati was treated. In Cincinnati, the Aronoff Center is often viewed from below (from street level) making the building, by placement alone, seem monumental. Such an approach is lacking in the convention center, which seems far more mundane than the larger than life Aronoff Center is. It would appear as though the low, long building fights Eisenman's preconceived stylistic notions, and perhaps Eisenman's awareness of this issue would explain why the most often published images of the building are taken from high surrounding buildings. These images show a particularly attractive view of the building, the complex system of volumes starting on High Street and working their way back towards the loading docks. This view, however, is reserved to lucky travelers staying in downtown hotels surrounding the convention center.

The interior of the building is dominated by a central axis that runs the entire length of the convention center. Walking in this main corridor, the visitor is faced with long stretches of un-designed spaces. Though this is perhaps meant to act as a counterpoint the building's busy exterior, the interior lacks the strength that the Aronoff Center achieves. Still, this simple central axis allows the building to work quite well due in part to its simple layout. Within this main passageway, balconies overlook the space and give viewers unusual views of the building and passersby, a technique that Eisenman would capitalize on in Cincinnati. 

It should be noted that Eisenman often referred to Cincinnati as being an "inside" building, which would lead us to believe that the Convention Center in Columbus is perhaps an "outside" building due to it's undecorated simplicity. This however, is simply not so. John Burgee who judged entries for the competition voiced concern about the building's facade being "not developed". This point could certainly be argued either way, due to the sheer quantity of colors and angles in the convention center's facade. But even with that apparent complexity in mind, it is easy to see the difference in the manner in which the building's facade is treated at the Wexner Center (with its multi-layered volumes, different finishes and unorthodox mix of materials) and the simplified manner in which it is treated here. 

Another issue raised by Eisenman's facade, is what happens when you place such a long inactive stretch in the middle of a busy urban area. As with many convention centers, the Greater Columbus Convention Center's front doors sit idle for much of the day, and especially at night. This is certainly an issue, since the building connects downtown Columbus with a neighborhood known as the Short North. Known for its busy nightlife, bars, art galleries and coffee shops the Short North is now cut off from downtown. Instead of connecting the busy neighborhood with other neighborhoods, the convention center serves as a bookend, and stops pedestrian traffic, since High Street quickly changes from a busy street to almost three blocks of inactive space. Even during daytime conventions, many visitors enter through the sides, which are connected to adjacent hotels, so that the building appears to be unoccupied even during its busiest events. 

Eisenman has often boasted in lectures about the vomit reflex that his interiors induce. Upon visiting the convention center, I must say that much of its interior lacks the complexity that would cause such a reaction, though the custom-made carpeting that covers the building certainly could have that effect on visitors.


Having said all this, I should mention that the building is very much worth visiting, since its sheer size (or should I say length?), color and unusual angles are in obvious contrast with the surrounding urban environment. The color palette that Eisenman used here in Columbus is much like that from the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, and the contrast it creates with its stereotypical downtown neighbors makes the building stand out that much more. Its proximity to the Wexner Center also makes the short drive worthwhile, in order to see two slightly different types of Eisenman buildings.

K. Bellon 2003 


How to visit

The Greater Columbus Convention Center is located at the northern end of downtown Columbus on High Street, just a few miles away from The Wexner Center. To get there, from I-71, take I-70 East, exit at Fourth Street, turn north on Fourth Street to Nationwide Boulevard, then make a right on High Street. The convention center will be on your right.

Parking is available, though like most downtown areas it can be a bit challenging to park during weekdays. For parking information and detailed instructions visit and look under the "Visit the Convention Center" section, or call +1 641 827 2500. 

Though there are currently no organized tours of the building, upon calling the number above and asking about architectural tours, kind employees showed interest and were very willing to show me around the entire building. One is normally free to roam the building's interior spaces, but this is only true during times when there are events going. Note that the building has many entrances which face High Street, and some are often closed if no conventions are going on in that area of the building, so it's worth trying other doors which may very well be open. 


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