El Dorado, Arkansas is not a sleepy southern town, but home to one of the world's most recognized oil companies, which was created with the discovery of oil in southern Arkansas at the turn of the century. With oil came the timber industry to pine country, propelling El Dorado into the South’s original “Boom Town”.
Drawing from its greatest industries of past and present to the Educational advancements of tomorrow, the EDCC creates a memorable architecture intended to help propel El Dorado into a regional meeting destination. The unique nature of Community ownership – Public, Business, and Education – demanded an architecture that would blend the three seamlessly together, creating a place for all to interact and learn. With three constituent groups, however, came different desires for architectural style; all agreed, however, that the building should exude a timeless quality. Instead of relying on the cliché of past historic building styles, the design focuses on the rich story of place: the industries that put El Dorado on the map. Located between an historic, thriving Downtown Square and South Arkansas Community College, the site links “town to gown”, connecting the two great sources of public pride. The square and college also influenced a building parti of two naturally lit Public Halls, one on the path to downtown, the other to the College Academic Quad. These interior streets are lined with a café, bookstore, and public/college meeting rooms, while serving as galleries for the college and city art center. The great halls’ intersection serves as the Living Room of the Community as well as “college central” for Student Services.
The key component of a design philosophy of celebrating industry is the honest expression of the steel structure, and the craft of its detailing instead of the typical applied ornamentation. The main Public Hall is a subtle repeating cross section of a derrick’s shape and bracing, creating a soaring cathedral like space, capped with a wood shed that recalls the long timber mills of this forested region. The EDCC’s large masonry wall planes act to honor the adjacent colligate campus legacy without the adorned 1900’s detailing. The cafe/bookstore opens under a great masonry arch to a new lawn for student and public use that is aligned with the heart of campus.
The unique design of the large multi-purpose room, Murphy Hall, allows an indoor/outdoor north stage for public events, such as the yearly music festival. The room is purposely on axis with the landmark dome of the First Baptist Church to the north, which is visible from the space.
One of the project’s most important elements sits as a focal point of the main lawn as a reminder of the horrible events of 9/11/200. A piece of the World Trade Center steel is an integral part of the Arkansas 9/11 memorial, which honors four Arkansans lost. Designed by PSW's Mandy Breckenridge, the portal structure was built with existing granite slabs salvaged from an industry drilling process. Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects donated the design to honor the victims and their families.
The El Dorado Conference Center represents unprecedented community collaboration. The Conference Center writes a narrative of time, place, and story, linking the urban fabric between town and college, while serving as a symbol for the renewal of Arkansas’ original Boom Town.
The Conference Center was recognized with an AISC IDEAS2 National Award in 2012.