The Astrodome’s True Architectural Identity

With the infrastructure on display as the thing that makes it the Eiffel Tower of large covered stadium construction, the immortality of the Astrodome would be a guaranteed thing of beauty ~ just as Patrick Lopez knew it could be.
~ A work by Houston architect James Richards.

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

Regarding the Astrodome, why do we have to settle for a plan that addresses only the present economic needs of the county and near neighboring tenants at NRG ~ and all in return for a scrubbed down facsimile face of the Astrodome that probably gets an historical identity plaque for the benefit of those younger people in 10 to 20 years who need the label to know what they are looking at.

Yes, we know, politics and pragmatism contain the answer, but these usual suspects behind the smiling faces and shaking hands of big money agreements still do not visually explain what made the round-shaped building in Houston so important to the history of enclosed unit stadium sports and the annals of international architecture in particular.

I am in possession of a picture and proposal, on the other hand, which do visually portray the Astrodome for eternity by her true identity as both a mark of architectural genius ~ and a work of art on a grand scale. The infrastructure of the Astrodome, all  this time, are what have made this piece our community face as a contributor to architectural acclaim.

Credit for the above artistic rendering belongs to architect James Richards and his group. Although we have never met nor even talked by phone at this writing, Richards was kind enough to share with me by e-mail that he and others had been inspired by a column I had written about our late friend and colleague Patrick Lopez in reference to his ideas for using the dome infrastructure as the symbol for what was really important as art to architecture about our abandoned waif of concrete and metal.

The date of this nearly seven-year old column in The Pecan Park Eagle was April 19, 2012:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2012/04/19/the-astrodome-a-future-as-art/

******************************

Here too is the James Richard Group’s Proposal for A Dome Park. Please read it over as openly minded as possible.

 MISSION STATEMENT

A-Dome Park is a conceptual Master-Plan that proposes to transform, Harris County’s & NRG Park’s Astrodome and adjacent parking lots into a Forty acre active urban park. The proposed park aims to bring the same economic, recreational, and cultural success to NRG Park that Discovery Green Park has brought to Downtown Houston.

At the heart of this plan, we imagine the gentle removal of the Astrodome’s exterior and interior nonstructural surfaces, to reveal and celebrate the groundbreaking work of structural engineering that lies hidden within. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Astrodome will stand proudly as an iconic, unenclosed, open air, painted steel structure, surrounded by a picturesque tree filled park.

In addition to the surrounding park, the uncovered steel structure of the Astrodome will contain a network of new infrastructure components; restaurants, a Astrodome history museum, public restrooms, indoor air-conditioned parking for 1500 cars, elevators, and a connected sequence of flat and inclined boardwalks making it possible to hike, bike, and wheelchair from street level to the very top of the dome!

WHY & HOW

In the early 1960’s the Astrodome was purpose built as a Baseball stadium. Football was also played in the dome, but it was not designed specifically for that game. The Houston Oilers football team played their last game in the Astrodome in 1996 and in the year 2000 the Astros baseball team moved to a new stadium in downtown Houston. The last concert was performed in the dome in 2003 and in 2008 the building officially closed to the public due to building code violations and life safety concerns. Since 2008 it has not been used in any significant way. The exterior and interior finish surfaces have been partially demolished and those that remain in place are slowly deteriorating to this day. If the Astrodome is to survive and prosper for the citizens of present day Harris County and future generations to come it must be transformed to become an icon of strength and ingenuity.

We believe that the most significant aspect of the Astrodome is its contributions to humanity as a masterpiece of structural engineering and building technology. At the time of its construction it achieved a clear column free span of six hundred forty three feet, nearly twice as long as any dome in the world! We propose to celebrate this engineering tour de force by removing the remaining decaying exterior and interior finish surfaces to reveal the magnificent framework of structural steel, columns, beams, ring girders, and lamella trusses that lie hidden within. For the first time, the public will witness the movement of the seventy two pivoting columns at the top of the base structure that allow the mighty dome structure above to expand and contract up to twelve inches with outside air temperature changes. The steel structure, unlike the exterior and interior finish surfaces is nearly perfectly preserved and only needs treatment with corrosion resistant paint to weather outdoor exposure.

The unenclosed steel structure of the Astrodome will contain a network of new infrastructure components; restaurants, a Astrodome History Museum, public restrooms, indoor air-conditioned parking for 1500 cars, elevators, and a connected sequence of flat and inclined boardwalks making it possible to hike, bike and wheelchair from street level to the very top of the dome! This new infrastructure will help to defeat Harris County’s current public health crisis of extremely high obesity and diabetes rates by providing the public with miles of outdoor pedestrian, wheelchair, and bicycle paths to enjoy all year long.

The new infrastructure described above will also support a distributed matrix of electrical power, lighting, information technology, outdoor cooling, and plumbing, creating a plug and play environment to facilitate and enhance any event, from the complexity of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to the simplicity a small group friends on a sunset hike up the dome.

Our vision for the transformed Astrodome imagines it surrounded by thirteen acres of Live Oak tree filled park space. To accomplish this we propose to relocate 1500 existing outdoor car parking spaces to a two level indoor air-conditioned garage placed within the dome footprint between the existing sunken playing field and ground levels. Not only will this new park space provide endless recreational and event possibilities, it will help to reduce flooding by transforming the impervious asphalt surface parking into water absorbing green landscaping. The new park will also help to naturally cool the adjacent NRG Park by significantly reducing the surface area of the existing black top parking lots.

The Astrodome will be reborn as the Eiffel Tower of Harris County, an iconic work of long span structural engineering set within a picturesque tree filled active urban park.

 COST

A-Dome Park will be funded using the same private/public partnership model used to pay for and maintain Discovery Green Park. We estimate the cost of Phase-One of the park to be 90 million dollars and like Discovery Green, most of the funding will come from public donations, and the many private foundations and endowments that support public health, environmental and cultural projects in urban areas.

Phase One of A-dome Park will include:

1-Demolition of selected exterior and interior non structural surfaces
2-Parking for 1500 cars on two levels
3-Two elevator/stair towers
4-The Great Floor
5-The Inner Perimeter Ramp
6-Ten acres of landscaping
7-Restrooms
Miscellaneous structural modifications
Miscellaneous mechanical, electrical and plumbing
10-Interior and exterior lighting

Maintenance costs of the park will be generated by a combination of revenue streams; private sector rental of the park for private and public events, private amenity rental, and indoor parking fees. Discovery Green Park successfully deploys this strategy to fund most park maintenance costs.

SCHEDULE

We believe the entire project could be built within a two year time frame.

SOURCE OF ABOVE

https://www.adomepark.org/about

******************************

IN CLOSING

After coming this far with our efforts to save the Astrodome for the generations to come, we should still be open to asking, “What is it, here and now, that could make any plan at this late planning stage even better?”

In this instance, I believe the answer is ~ let’s at least listen to the proposal of the James Richards group. After kicking its tires a few times in solitude over time and, by the way, no other soul in the world ~ not Richards ~ not nobody ~ not anybody ~ even knows I am writing this column this Saturday ~ I simply now have to say that I really, really love it.

The James Richards Group Plan is the glimpse that the late Patrick Lopez had of the Astrodome a few years ago. It is not the preserve-our-memories of the Astrodome past that we all carry with us down the road. ~ It will be the eternal face of The Astrodome by art that new visitors will recognize at first sight as surely as they now do The Eiffel Tower ~ and they will be able to do so ~ even if they do not know an Astro from an Oiler ~ or a Bobby Riggs from a Billy Jean King.

Those sports, rodeo, concert, and convention histories will still be known to future first time visitors who come to see the Astrodome, but the much larger group of tomorrow’s visitors may be those who come to see Houston’s artful homage to the history of world class architecture.

Now we get to find out if we Harris Countians have all of the will, courage, and insight as a community it is going to take to set our preservation planning at a little higher level so that our deeper into the future gift to the world and history is rendered possible.

I love what you’ve done here, James Richards! ~ You’ve also shown that you have included a specific plan for an Astrodome Hall of Fame ~ That’s really important. Your plan seems aimed at clarifying the Astrodome’s identity for the future while you also build and enrich upon the creation and growth of the place’s incredible history. Maybe the Harris County Astrodome Preservation Group and new Harris Commissioner Lina Hidalgo will give your plan a serious look-see.

If we forget the needs of future generations in the process of preserving a bargained away blurry reminder of the past, vis-a-vis, the rental room route, I feel that we are only a step up from razing the Astrodome and turning it into a parking space. ~ People forget parking spaces, they just use them. ~ Unfortunately, over time, people also forget rental space too, they just use it. ~ On the other hand, people do not forget art that shall forever inspire yet unborn generations of the Astrodome’s once greatness of purpose ~ and even more importantly ~ of its true identity as a major contributor to world architecture.

Nobody forgets an Astrodome that lights up the summer sky.

It’s time we pushed our Astrodome plans a little further, and a little higher, up the road.

That’s it, friends. Now it’s time to read up. Catch up. Talk it up. Get the word out to one and all.  Some action is needed. And soon.

Sincerely,

Bill McCurdy

Addendum Links

If you are interested in communicating your questions or support for A-Dome Park, here’s a list of links that will be important to you:

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo / email:
judge.hidalgo@cjo.hctx.net
A-Dome Park website:
adomepark.org
A-Dome Park instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/adomepark/
Houston Public Media Video on A-dome Park:
******************************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

One Response to “The Astrodome’s True Architectural Identity”

  1. Josephine MIller Says:

    Love your plan It is an engineering marvel. WOW. Josephine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: