The Scope arena was designed by Italian architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi in conjunction with the (now defunct) local firm of Williams and Tazewell, which designed the entire complex. Nervi's design for the arena's reinforced concrete dome evolved from the Palazzetto dello Sport now known as the PalaLottomatica, which was built for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
After watching the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics on television, and seeing the Palazzo and Palazzetto dello Sport, Brad Tazewell and Jim Williams, two Norfolk architects, solicited U.S. Sen. A. Willis Robertson, father of Pat Robertson, to build a sports complex in Norfolk. Subsequently, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Robertson to support federal funding for a multimillion-dollar cultural center in Colorado and Robertson said he would if Johnson would support one in Norfolk. Williams and Tazewell was subsequently commissioned; they in turn commissioned Nervi.
Construction on Scope began in June 1968 and was completed in 1971 at a cost of $35 million. Federal funds covered $23 million of the cost, and when it opened formally on November 12, 1971, the structure was the second-largest public complex in Virginia, behind only the Pentagon. Featuring the world's largest reinforced thinshell concrete dome, Scope won the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects Test of Time award in 2003