Beyond Thunderdome

Future still uncertain for Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes

(Courtesy Mike Gonzalez/ Wikimedia Commons)

Milwaukee’s iconic Mitchell Park Domes may be in more danger from the unstable political ground they sit on than their direly needed repairs.

As previously reported by The Architect’s Newspaper, the three conoidal glass conservatory domes closed in February due to safety concerns surrounding their deteriorating concrete. Since then, the Show Dome, filled with decorative plants, has been reopened, while the Desert and Tropical Domes have remained closed. The battle for what to do with the domes has been among the Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, the Milwaukee County Board, and the public. In March, Abele—who’s purportedly in favor of demolition—convened a committee to discuss the future of the domes. Since that committee was convened without public notice, some are calling foul under the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. At the same time, the Milwaukee County Board has assembled a task force to pursue a repair and preservation plan. Abele has recently expressed that he will work with the County Board team but will also continue to work with his own committee on plans for the domes. Both Abele’s and the County’s task force include business, non-profit, and community members.


The concrete design of the Mitchell Park Domes gives the appearance of a monolithic seamless construction. (Courtesy victorgrigas/Wikimedia Commons)

Currently, crews are working to wrap interior concrete members in an attempt to slow degradation. The Tropical and Desert Domes are expected to reopen in late September and late October, respectively.

Built between 1959 and 1967, the domes are not geodesic as many initially think. Designed by local architect Donald Grieb, the domes are conical in shape and built out of precast concrete rather than steel. A triangulated aluminum glass skin sits just above the concrete skeleton of the building. Over time, water from without and within has damaged the concrete, leading to the domes’ current predicament.

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