Kemper Arena / Kansas City, Missouri/ 1974
Status: Completed 1974
Recognition: AIA Chicago Chapter Award; AIA National Honor Award; Bartelt Award; AISC Award
The first major building to come out of the firm with Helmut Jahn’s name distinctly attached to it, the Kemper Arena established his reputation as an adventurous designer. Three giant trusses hold the roof in suspension above the tiers of seats and support spaces below. The trusses serve both a practical function in allowing a fast-tracking of construction that produced the building in under 18 months and an aesthetic purpose in investing in an enormously bulky and closed building with considerable visual romance.
Designed for flexibility, the arena seats up to 18,000 people at hockey games, basketball, track events, boxing, music programs, livestock shows, and conventions. The three exterior trusses, which give the 325- by 424-foot interior a column-free enclosure, are made of standard tubes varying between 30 and 48 inches in diameter. The trusses are 27 feet deep and set 153 feet on center. Loads from the trusses are transferred to steel hangers angled out from the building, leading to pin connections that sit on concrete piles driven 60 feet into the earth. The two tiers of seating are part of a concrete substructure that takes no vertical loads from the roof or exterior walls.
The arena was designed on an oval plan rather than a circular one to bring seats closer to the center and to reduce the required span of the super-structure by 76 feet. Entrances are at concourse level, with an equal number of seats above and below. Four mechanical rooms for air conditioning are located at the corners of the upper level. These spaces evolve into canopies over the spectator entrances by creating a rectangle superimposed over the oval below. The exterior wall consists of insulated metal panels, painted white, while technical and structural elements on the interior are left exposed brightly painted.
Due to its revolutionary design, Kemper Arena has become a beloved landmark in Kansas City and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.