Saturday, August 30, 2008

Peeling the Onion: BOK Center First Impressions

From the outside, Tulsa's new arena is a masterpiece of shiny metal, swirling shapes, and massive expanses of glass. It's an audacious example of digital architecture that only Cesar Pelli could have come up with. It's a giant, gleaming, silver onion.

Once you go inside the onion, however, something smells a bit rotten. Your eyes are assaulted by raw concrete, jagged angles, exposed duct work, and a general feeling that the construction workers forgot to finish building the place. There are also some rather bizarre decisions in how to integrate interior spaces with the bold lines of the exterior. There's a ramp that goes up to the second level. You'd think it would follow the sweeping lines of the place and wrap around the building. But you'd be mistaken. Halfway up the ramp, you are stopped by an ugly concrete wall blocking you from going any further. It's not a full wall, and you can see over it the rest of where the ramp should go, a vast expanse of raw concrete that is mind-bogglingly ugly. The ramp doubles back on itself.

The building is full of raw concrete pillars, exposed ducts, unfinished bits, and just general ugliness that clashes dramatically with the smooth metal and white columns of the exterior. It's like Mr. Pelli had a vision for the outside of the building, but he had no idea how to put together the interior.

It's a bold, bizarre, jarring, incomprehensible piece of architecture, completely out of touch with the rest of Tulsa, and almost completely devoid of aesthetic beauty.