Tulsa's IPE Building Deserves Better

Orange You Glad They Painted it Grey?

IPE Building during construction.
Courtesy Modern Steel
Not me.

Long before it was known as the Quik Trip Center, the immense building at Expo Square behind the Golden Driller was known as the Tulsa Exposition Center. Built in 1966 to provide an indoor space for the International Petroleum Exposition, the building featured a cable-supported roof covering more than 10 acres. Distinctive orange steel supports rose up from the prairie to hold the cable system.

The architect for the project was Bert E. Griffin and David R. Graham and Associates were the structural engineers. The clever cable system floating 3,500 tons of structural steel above the exhibit floor was so unique several patents were filed. The visual impact of the building was modern, but very business-like. The wide stance of the outermost support pillars echoed the "spider legs" of architect Richard Neutra. Giant beams rose up from the roof to grasp cables, almost like a giant bridge had been covered.

The structure and its eight-story tall doorman, the Golden Driller, became symbols of Tulsa- then known as the "Oil Capital of the World." Most Tulsans knew it as the IPE Building, though the oil show was only one of the many events hosted there. The unique design offered 8 acres of uninterrupted floorspace- the largest in the world. Through the Seventies the building was marketed as a venue for car races, gun shows, boat expositions and even the national BMX championships.

Old and New: Artist rendering showing the new Tulsa Exposition
Center and the classic Pavilion in the background.

International Orange
Federal Specification 595 was created in 1956 as a standard for paint colors. One of the best known of these colors is FS.12197, more commonly referred to as International Orange. This red-orange color is used on the Golden Gate Bridge. I cannot definitively prove it, but I'm pretty sure that's what color the Quik Trip Center/IPE Building/Tulsa Exposition Center was painted.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

A devastating blow comes when the decision is made to "update" the iconic IPE Building by blandifying the red-orange steel structure with dull silver paint. Then, as if to add insult to injury, cheesy disco lights are glued to the cable support system. The building's striking appearance has been reduced to camouflage for a cloudy day.

The IPE Building TodayMercifully the light system failed after the first Oklahoma thunderstorm.

But the mundane grey remains. Only shadow and light at certain times of the day reveal the architecture hidden underneath that coat of paint. Unique shapes and angles of the building's steel structure were once highlighted by the bright, contrasting orange color. Now muted in grey, the building seems to be apologizing for its unusual design.

Hopefully maybe someday it will be International Orange again. After all, it's good enough for the Golden Gate Bridge.


Anonymous said…
Money can not overcome ignorance.
That orange color--like Knoll furniture's logo-- was iconic!

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