[ Editor's Note: The following is a selection of reader-submitted comments from the online feature about AN's recent Reimagine the Astrodome competition. It appeared as a letter to the editor in a recent print edition, AN01_02.05.2014_SW. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email email@example.com. ] Three of these are not serious, and the one with merit, the “sky dome” closely resembles a proposal I published over two years ago. Naturally we think that is a great concept, but the devil is in the details. We will continue to pursue our proposals, which are the result of over six years of research and collaboration. We will also continue to pursue the Orbital Experience, our original version of the “sky dome.” And we are fully date stamped so no one need think about challenging our intellectual property position on that. You guys are not connected to reality. Chris Alexander Astrodome Tomorrow Incredible article! First you assemble a team of, presumably, the brightest lights in the area as judges. Then you put out a call to the entire country for the highest and best visions for a re-imagined Astrodome—a call to artists, architects, engineers calculated to unleash the collective genius and spirit of Astrodome-followers everywhere. The stage was set perfectly for you to launch your new edition with a fabulous piece of journalism. Everyone was waiting. You had our attention. Harris County and the HCSCC set the lowest possible bar for you to meet or exceed with a plan that not even 150,000 people out of a population of 4 million wanted to support. Finally, after a month of agonizing over everything that came in, you did it. Congratulations on a job, well, done (note the punctuation). You managed to do something no one on the planet would have thought possible. You managed to make the County’s New Dome Experience look inspired and visionary. J. M. Arpad Lamell Lamell & Associates See the competition winners at: archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6936
Posts tagged with "Houston":
The Gensler-designed Capitol Tower, a 34-story speculative office building developed by Skanska USA on the site of the former Houston Club in downtown Houston, Texas, has been awarded Platinum Pre-Certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED v4 ranking system. According to a press release put out by Skanska, the project is one of only a handful of in-the-works buildings to earn the distinction under the fourth generation of the LEED system. The company also stated that it wished Capitol Tower to be the greenest building in Houston. The design includes a high-performance facade system, daylight harvesting technology to reduce energy use, 90 percent access to daylight and views for tenants, a garage with daylight occupancy sensors and a green roof, alternative vehicle charging stations, a rainwater collection system, and bicycle amenities to encourage cycle commuting, among other sustainable features. “Skanska made it clear from the beginning of the design process that they wanted this to be the most sustainable building in Houston,” Gensler principal Kristopher Stuart said in a statement. “We really pushed our team to move beyond anything we have done before to create a building that offers an exceptional work environment in a high-performance envelope that will dramatically reduce operating costs. The design also places an extraordinary emphasis on public spaces and pedestrian experiences which we believe will greatly enhance and enrich Houston’s urban fabric." Under the LEED system, pre-certification allows owners to begin to market the proposed green features of a project to prospective tenants who wish to occupy a LEED certified space. Earning a pre-certification is not a guarantee of actual LEED certification. While the pre-certification review is conducted in the same manner as a combined design and construction review, no credits or pre-requisites can be awarded. They are instead marked as "anticipated." In addition, only projects registered under the LEED for Core & Shell rating system can apply for pre-certification.
Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia The Museum of Fine Arts Houston 5601 Main Street Houston, Texas December 19 through March 9, 2014 The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) is hosting an eye-opening exhibition this winter that will uncover the rich history of the ancient trade routes of the Arabian Peninsula. Organized by the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., in association with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), Roads of Arabia will feature objects recently excavated from more than 10 archaeological sites, and give insight into the culture and economy of this ancient civilization. Recently discovered objects along the trade routes include alabaster bowls and fragile glassware as well as heavy gold earrings and monumental statues. All of the artifacts are testament to the lively exchange between Arabs and their neighbors, including the Egyptians, Syrians, Babylonians, and Greco-Romans.
Yesterday, Houston voters killed a $200 million ballot initiative to renovate the unused Astrodome. Fifty-three percent opposed the measure and 47 percent supported it. The plan would have turned the stadium—the first domed and air-conditioned professional stadium—into a multi-use event and convention space. Houston's professional sports teams now play in Reliant Stadium next door and Minute Made Park in downtown Houston. Without funding for renovation, the dome appears destined for demolition. Tomorrow, AN will release the results of the "Re-imagine the Astrodome" competition, which includes both pragmatic and visionary ideas for re-using the Space Age structure. To celebrate, join us for coffee and refreshments at the Texas Society of Architects in the Grand Lobby of Fort Worth Convention Center from 10:00-11:00 a.m. We'll also be launching the inaugural issue of the Southwest edition. Stop by meet AN's new Southwest Aaron Seward.
As Harris County voters prepare to make their decision on the fate of Houston’s iconic Astrodome, some lucky locals will have an opportunity to bring home a piece of the historic stadium this Saturday. In preparation for the stadium’s pending rebirth as the “New Dome Experience” (or its possible destruction), the building’s managers are tearing a page out of Minneapolis' playbook as they put sections of the stadium up for sale. A limited quantity of seats, genuine sections of AstroTurf, furnishings, concessions equipment, and various memorabilia—including the space helmets worn by the grounds crew for the stadium's opening 48 years ago—are up for sale at the Astrodome Yard Sale and Live Auction at Houston's Reliant Center on November 2. If you live in the area, you could bring home a pair of two seats for $200, or a 12” by 12” section of turf for $20. Customers will be limited to four seats and four sections of turf, so forget about reconstructing the dome in your backyard. Proceeds from the sale will go to the Astrodome's pending renovation. While two recent polls show that voters are still split on the $217 million dollar proposal to transform the aging stadium into a sprawling 21st century event space in time for Superbowl LI in 2017, the project’s proponents are confident that they will pull through. But, if the historic structure does come to face the wrecking ball, this may be your last chance to claim a slice of the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Either way, don't miss out on AN and YKK's Reimagining the Astrodome Award Reception on November 4th! Join us at the Grand Lobby of the Fort Worth Convention Center for the launch of our newest print edition, AN Southwest, and be there as the top teams explain their proposals for the future of the Astrodome.
Two Polls Indicate the Disposition of Harris County Voters Regarding $217 Million Astrodome Bond Fund
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that two recent polls have given clues as to how the denizens of Harris County will vote in the matter of approving $217 million in bonds to fund the reuse of the Astrodome. Previously, the Harris County Commissioners Court set the matter of the bond fund to a November 5 referendum. If voters approve the fund, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation will be able to proceed with its plans to create a New Dome Experience in time for Superbowl LI in 2017. Harris County property tax will also experience a slight hike to pay for it all. If voters oppose the issue, the Astrodome will in all likelihood meet the wrecking ball. Either way, entrants to AN and YKK AP's Reimagine The Astrodome competition will be watching with bated breath. A poll conducted by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein for KUHF/KHOU shows 45 percent of voters would support the bond issue, while 35 percent would oppose it, and 20 percent are undecided. The poll surveyed 650 potential voters and claims a 3.8 percent margin of error. Another poll that was conducted by a group of save-the-dome proponents showed a tie, with 43 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed, and the rest undecided. While the polls don't suggest a landslide victory for proponents of preserving the dome, Stein told the Chronicle that he suspects the referendum will pass simply because there is no organized opposition.
Artists Dan Havel and Dean Ruck of Havel Ruck Projects have garnered attention for some interesting installation pieces in Houston, blurring the lines between art and architecture. Over the last eight years, the collaboration has constructed temporary artworks using old, wooden homes, bizarre shows of simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction of architecture. Inversion from 2005 recreates two wood bungalows, donated to the artists by Art League Houston, into a vortex of white wooden planks. In 2010, the Houston Art Alliance sponsored Havel Ruck Projects’s creation of Fifth Ward Jam. A wooden home doomed for refuse in Houston’s 5th Ward became an imaginative community stage of vertically spewed boards.
[ Editor's Note: The following story, "Il Duomo," first appeared in Texas Architect's May/June 1990 issue. It was written by the late Douglas Pegues Harvey, an architect who graduated from Rice University and worked for Marmon Mok Architecture in San Antonio. It was written on the occasion of the Houston Astrodome's 25th anniversary as a sort of homage as well as a protest for the fact that the building was not chosen for the AIA Twenty-Five Year Award. Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch was. (Incidentally, another Houston project was chosen for the 2013 25-Year Award.) We are rerunning this story, with permission, because today, September 17, is the registration deadline for Reimagine the Astrodome, AN and YKK AP's Astrodome Reuse Design Ideas Competition. Due to the overwhelming enthusiasm surrounding the competition, we've decided to extend the registration dealing to Monday, September 23. So if you were sleeping, wake up! Sign up today! (Also, if you have the chops to write articles like "Il Duomo" and want to contribute to AN Southwest, please contact Aaron Seward, firstname.lastname@example.org.) ] It's not every building that gets to be known as The Eighth Wonder Of The World. Texas' nominee, the Astrodome, opened 25 years ago as the world's finest interior landscape. On Apr. 9,1965, a time when the hegemony of television and the standing of the Sunbelt in American life were not yet secure, the Astrodome opening struck a telling blow on their behalf. The occasion was a Houston Astro's exhibition baseball game against the New York Yankees. With President Lyndon Johnson watching, Mickey Mantle (naturally) hit the first home run, but the Astro's (necessarily) won. The experience left visitors, well, bug-eyed. At 642 feet, the Astrodome's clear span more than doubled that of any previous enclosure. Its parking lot, the world's largest, held 30,000 cars. That sort of thing. A few miles away, NASA was making its great thrust into the infinite, silent sea. It was one of those times when events get larger than life. The Dome has had its true believers—evangelist Billy Graham, who held Crusade for Christ there its first year, and who knows something about the ancient world, has been credited with the "Eighth Wonder" phrase—and its critics—writer Larry McMurtry, for instance, described it as "the working end of the world's largest deodorant stick." In purely compositional terms, it may not have done much. Long-span technology and multi-use ingenuity have long since passed it by. All the same, there are other measures of the success of this project. Not only did it bring the pageant of stadium sports inside, its introduction of Astroturf permanently changed the "envelope of performance" of all sports previously played on grass. Its "skyboxes" represent a milepost in the evolution of the contemporary notion of "upscale," and transformed the financial structure of professional sports. It even created a new building type—a room where you could see cars colliding in mid-air. And to top it all, it was even a bargain: the construction cost of $18.7 million translates to $64 million in 1989 dollars (including financing, total cost was $107.1 million in 1989 dollars.) But to posterity, the most important test of a building is not in the continuing influence of its various innovations but in how it engages and alters the mythic landscape. By this standard, the Dome is a landmark of the first order. At its opening the Dome was an instant celebrity and since then it has maintained a star billing that few buildings of any kind ever achieve. It is, as they say, the original. It certainly wasn't just a "stadium." Only Yankee Stadium, beneficiary of decades of press exposure in the more-or-less Capital of the World, has approached a similar status. But the Dome isn't really a "building," either. Ironically, one measure of its impact is that it has never been casually thought of or described in architectural terms. It is a different category of thing, ill-defined but clearly unique and "other." In homage, equivalent buildings are customarily called "domes" even when they are not at all dome-like—the Hoosier Dome, the Pontiac Silverdome. Despite its cable suspension roof hung from four 300-foot towers, the sports and convention palace now being designed for San Antonio is persistently referred to as the "Alamodome." The story of the Astrodome's creation is a form of surrealist frontier melodrama where financial risk-taking, political deal-making, and architectural daring intersect to recast the fates of humanity redefining our perceptions about the nature of buildings, the functions they contain, and the culture they represent. The Dome was a product of the unspoken conviction that there were, and could be, no limits. Volumetrically, the Astrodome peculiarly resembles the Hyatt-Regency Hotel in Atlanta Ga., which opened about the same time. Both buildings redefined and revitalized a building type so as to create new images and possibilities, and they both did so in the same way—by going beyond Piranesi to create infinite space. One of the recurring themes in American cultural history is the quest for Zion—breaking out into infinite space to create (or regain) the ideal landscape and community—to get back to the Garden. When NASA began giving that quest its ultimate form, a conceptual boundary was created that demanded a new understanding of architectural "space." The significance of the Astrodome and the Hyatt-Regency lies in their re-presentation of this quest as an introspective one, by establishing the possibility of an infinite interior space. The Astrodome engages the sense of the infinite paradoxically. A single-space building, no matter how huge, appears larger inside than outside. Once inside, you lose the scalar cues the landscape and sky normally provide and have only the structure itself as a frame of reference. But our personal and evolutionary experience with the natural world have conditioned us to interpret the background as all-encompassing. Therefore we read the distant walls as the natural background, and perceptually "overscale" any uncommonly large interior; the larger the room, the more pronounced the effect. The Astrodome simply raises this effect to a higher order of magnitude. It encloses so much volume that the roof's visual weight is inadequate to delimit the scale, and the space becomes perceptually unbounded. Viewed through our prejudice in favor of overscaling, it reads as bigger than immeasurably big—infinite. The roof is no more than a gossamer web of steel clouds drifting above the field, completing a vision of the cosmos. Because an infinite space cannot be "inside" anything, in the Astrodome, you are not, therefore, "inside." A parallel physiological effect then reinforces this message. When we gaze into the distance, the alignment and focus of our eyes gives us a certain neuromuscular feedback that we associate with the wide-open spaces. In neuromuscular terms, a sufficiently distant roof is the same as the sky. The meaning derived from these phenomena are profoundly different from those evoked by the sense of being inside. Freed of ultimate closure, the Astrodome becomes a microcosm, as though it were a colony in space or on society's conceptual frontier (which, in a sense, it was), with a wholeness independent of the outside world. It is even a dome—a form loaded with historical references to the sacred and the infinite. Its location at the edge of the limitless prairie, in a nearly infinite parking lot, heightens the air of surrealism while its name appropriates the aura of outer space on behalf of inner space. Subjecting the building's functions to such an articulate vastness gives them a jamais vu quality. By its association with the cosmic vision, any mass spectator event instantly becomes a grander, more intense, more focused spectacle; its emotional equations are transformed. The first indoor baseball game became, figuratively, the first game of all time. However, intensifying the ritual to such a degree also transforms it into entertainment. Beginning with that first indoor baseball game, the sense and even the pretense of continuity and reciprocity between participants and spectators (such as that postulated by the Texas A&M "twelfth man" tradition) were forever abandoned. The first spectators in the Astrodome became the live audience in the world's largest television studio, furnished with theater seats, not bleachers, with a scoreboard that lit up like a game in an arcade. Finally the Caesars in the skyboxes had a suitably spectacular barbarity to entertain them. Success, it is said, has a thousand fathers. It may already be too late to establish with certainty who originated the idea for a covered, air-conditioned baseball stadium. It is clear that various business owners in Houston during the 1950's were campaigning to bring major league baseball to town. There were studies for a "War Memorial Stadium" that even became the Astrodome in order to cement the design with the National League. Public sentiment credits Judge Roy Hofheinz, the Dome's guiding genius and co-owner of its master lease. One story has it that he got the idea for a sports stadium as a tourist in Italy, on learning that the Colosseum (home to blood sports and human sacrifices) had a retractable sunshade. Prior to getting involved in baseball, certainly, the Judge was in a race (won by Frank Sharp at Sharpstown) to develop Houston's first air-conditioned shopping mall, and was thoroughly familiar with the design and construction of long-span, air-conditioned assembly spaces. Moreover, the idea was already in the air. Tycoon Glenn McCarthy may have proposed a covered stadium during the 1940s. Walter O'Malley considered building a covered stadium for the Dodgers while they were still in Brooklyn, and Harris County officials met with him in Los Angeles in the late 50s. But in mythological terms the Colosseum connection is true, regardless of its actuality. It invokes the laying-on of hands, conveying the splendor of ancient Rome from its Pantheon to the new cathedral of America's sports religion. In an article in Architectural Design in 1970, Peter Papademetriou equated the Astrodome to St Peter's as a gigantic urban-edge project that established a defining physical and social form. In the beginning, the glory of Rome gave a desirable gloss to the Astrodome's image. But today comparisons to either St. Peter's or the Colosseum are redundant. The Dome, not Rome, is the archetypal social form across the land. With the coming of the Dome, spectacle at last reached the intensity necessary to bridge the mythic distance from baseball, diffuse and subtle, to football, especially professional football, a gladiatorial contest worthy of the first Colosseum. The elevation of the spectacle also transformed the nature of the "occasion" surrounding football as ritual event. Formerly, the game itself was only the zone of greatest density of meaning imbedded in an extended activity. In the ancestral pattern, getting there was half the fun—the journey, visits to relatives or friends, the tailgate party, the post-game celebration. (The old ways survive in Dallas the night before the Texas-Oklahoma football game and during "Texas Week" at Texas A&M.) Even the game's prostration before the elements, though sometimes inconvenient, was symbolically meaningful. Through this, the larger event maintained its ties to, and signified its place in, a world larger than the game itself. No longer. Thanks to the possibilities for artifice liberated by the Astrodome, the Event has been freed from its dependency on Nature's caprice and God's sky. The Game has achieved purity of essence. It is reborn as a feature attraction in the world of focused entertainment values based on network television and the ultimate macho voyeurism of Monday Night Football. The feat of mythic transformation wrought by the Astrodome is acknowledged by the attitudes of professional sports leagues towards indoor play. Even though baseball is always postponed for bad weather, major-league baseball will not consider indoor locations for prospective expansion teams. On the other hand, football, which is traditionally played regardless of the weather, has wholly embraced indoor stadiums. Whereas baseball is a ritual celebration of mythic space, football possesses and defines it. So while baseball needs the presence of the outside world and is diminished indoors, football is only rendered more intense and primal by the technical refinement that indoor play makes possible. So where has the Astrodome been all these years? Somewhere at once beneath the notice of the architecture profession and beyond its imagination. What if the Astrodome didn't further the "ennobling" of architecture—it forcefully, purposefully, massively, irredeemably changed the social landscape. If any building merits the AIA's 25-year award, it's the Astrodome. That the architecture profession has failed to recognize it as a key monument offers strong evidence that our criteria for measuring architectural quality remain woefully narrow, drawing so heavily on fineness of composition and on an abstract view of form that they blind us to the emotional, experiential character of our relationships with buildings. Douglas Pegues Harvey
With less then 8 weeks remaining before Harris County voters cast their ballots to decide the fate of the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” a group of prominent Houstonians has established a political action committee with which they hope to raise public support for the ailing Astrodome. Launched at a press conference on Thursday, The New Dome PAC has begun efforts to raise upwards of $200,000 for a media campaign intended to persuade the public to vote in favor of Proposition 2, the $217 million project that aims to preserve, repurpose, and modernize the historic stadium. While no opposing organization has yet been formed, some worry that many donors may be tapped out at this point in the political season, and polls conducted by local stations KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio show that the public is still split, with younger voters who may have never attended an event at the Astrodome showing less enthusiasm for putting down the cash to save it. Meanwhile, don't forget that the Architect's Newspaper and YKK AP are hosting an Astrodome Reuse Design Ideas Competition: Reimagine The Astrodome. The registration deadline is September 17, so sign up today! The members of the PAC include former and current Harris County judges Robert Eckels and Ed Emmet, Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, Beth Wiedower of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stephanie Anne Jones of Preservation Houston, Irma Diaz Gonzalez, and Dene Hofheinz, daughter of State Representative, Houston Mayor, County Judge and driving force behind the creation of the Astrodome, Roy Hofheinz. Together, they hope to transform the decaying 9.5-acre stadium into a multi-purpose special events center, dubbed the “New Dome Experience,” capable of hosting a wide array of large scale events, from trade shows and conferences to high school sporting events and Indy car races. The proposed transformation focuses on removing the stadium’s seating and raising its floor level to create 350,000 square feet of unimpeded event space, as well as updating its mechanical systems, installing glazed walls to bring in more natural light, and creating 400,000 square feet of public plaza surrounding the stadium. As Judge Ed Emmet told KUHF News, there is nowhere else in the world with a facility like the envisioned dome. “Once you take all the seats out, think how large of a space that is going to be, and just the opportunities it presents to bring all sorts of events. We have 7,500 festivals every year… You can put those inside the dome. They are weather proof, and it would be a huge attraction.” Despite the seemingly enormous potential of the Astrodome, it has sat empty since the rodeo moved out in 2003. Since then, the pressure to do something with the space has mounted, leading to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's inclusion of the stadium on its 2013 list of 11 most endangered historic places. But those behind the PAC firmly believe in both the tremendous economic potential of the structure as well as its historical and cultural significance. “Every effort should be made to preserve the dome,” Beth Wiedower said to KUHF. “Our coalition and our local partners recognize the Harris County Domed Stadium, the Astrodome, as a nationally significant landmark, not only for its architectural and engineering feats at construction or because it was the first dome stadium in the world and set the standard for stadiums for decades to come, but also because of the tremendous cultural significance it holds for Harris County.” According to Robert Stein, Rice University political science professor and KHOU’s political analyst, despite challenges, things don’t look all that bad for the New Dome PAC and the future of a national landmark. “It’s a little late,” Stein told KHOU. “However, if the supporters of the referendum are organized, spend a lot of money, and there is no organized and vocal opposition, I don’t see this having great difficulty in passing.”
[ Editor's Note: For those of you who are getting excited about The Architect's Newspaper and YKK AP's Reimagine the Astrodome design ideas competition, you have until September 17 to register. Once you've done that, take the time to read the following article, which appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Texas Architect. Written by Houston-based architect and writer Ben Koush, it covers the current status of the Dome, what it means to Harris County, and Space City's record of not bothering to preserve its architectural heritage. ] Ever since the Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams, in a snit after being refused a new stadium, took his football team to Nashville in 1997 and renamed it the Tennessee Titans, the fate of the Astrodome has been up in the air. Matters were made worse when, instead of rehabilitating the Astrodome a new, neo-traditionalist baseball stadium, Minute Maid Park, was built down-town for the Astros in 1999, and then in 2002, a hulking new football stadium, Reliant Center, was built uncomfortably close to its predecessor to house the replacement team, the Houston Texans, and the Houston Rodeo. The Astrodome, designed by local architects Lloyd, Morgan & Jones and Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson, opened in 1965 to national acclaim as the nation’s first covered and completely air-conditioned baseball and football stadium. It was inspired by Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz’s visit to the ancient Roman Colosseum, where he learned that a retractable canvas cover, the velarium, was once extended to shade most of the seats from the hot Italian sun. The novelty of the covered Texas sports stadium and its one-of-a-kind AstroTurf were pivotal points in the history of sports facilities. However, the decades have taken their toll. And in comparison to the recent crop of flashy new stadiums, the Astrodome looks downright dumpy. In a city that generally equates old with bad, these kinds of situations are usually resolved by demolition. Think Shamrock Hotel (largest hotel in America when it was opened in 1949); River Oaks Shopping Center (the New Deal-era prototype for an uncountable number of strip centers in the country); the Prudential Building (Houston’s first “suburban” skyscraper); and—being demolished as I write this—the former Foley Brothers department store (the grandest and last major downtown department store to be built in any American city). Given this trend, one cannot help but be surprised by what seems to be a miraculous turn of events. Almost as soon as the Astrodome was mothballed, eager would-be developers began pushing proposals for its redevelopment. The pressure increased notably when it became clear that Harris County is using some $3 million to $4 million of public money to maintain the stadium in its unused state each year. Suggestions included hotels, casinos, movie studios, amusement parks, museums, and, my personal favorite, a scheme by recent University of Houston architectural graduate student Ryan Slattery to strip the dome to its steel skeleton and repurpose it as a gigantic, 9-acre gazebo to shade a variety of outdoor activities. Reject, reject, reject. But with the news that Houston will be the location of the 2017 Super Bowl, speculation has intensified that current Harris County Judge Ed Emmett must decide if the Astrodome is to be demolished, as seems to be the desire of the Houston Rodeo in particular, or to be rehabilitated, as seems to be the desire of most Houstonians, who increasingly see it as the city’s signature architectural landmark. Rehabilitation of the iconic building would clearly avoid national embarrassment when the anticipated hordes of visiting sports commentators and football fans descend upon Reliant Stadium. National attention to Houston’s conundrum included articles in the New York Times and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s decision to include the Astrodome on its 2013 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This summer, Judge Emmett issued an ultimatum that redevelopment proposals would have to be submitted by June 10. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation (HCSCC) selected one of the proposals and will put it forward for a public vote in November for bond approvals. If the proposal is rejected, the Astrodome will be demolished. In late June, the HCSCC reviewed the 19 official submissions and duly approved what appears to be a somewhat banal scheme. “The New Dome Experience,” presented by HCSCC Executive Director Willie Loston, seeks to repurpose the Astrodome as a 350,000-sf column-free exhibition space, with an estimated price tag of $194 million. Why such a large convention center? For one thing, participants of the Offshore Technology Conference, which has annual trade shows at the Reliant Center, have been pushing to exhibit ever-larger oil and gas production devices—imagine entire offshore drilling rigs. Other suggested uses include moving the Rodeo’s carnival under cover, housing high school football games, and providing the ever-popular emergency housing in times of disaster. Emmett was recently quoted by writer Whitney Radley as saying, “I think the concept is outstanding, and at the end of it, I really believe that Houston and Harris County would become the event capital of the world.” It’s not all just boosterism, however. This scheme also proposes to include some 400,000 sf of programmed, semi-public outdoor space. So here’s to its success at the ballot boxes in November and to the hope that Houston might someday realize that its architectural patrimony is indeed worth maintaining rather than destroying. Ben Koush is a Houston-based architect and writer.
As enthusiasm continues to build for The Architect Newspaper and YKK AP's Reimagine The Astrodome design ideas competition, which accompanies the launch of the forthcoming AN Southwest edition as well as YKK AP's expansion into the region, we thought we'd take the opportunity to share a collection of excellent black and white photographs of the Astrodome from the Library of Congress. These pictures document the dome as it looked in 2004, after its last tenant, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, had moved out in 2003, before it was used to house refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and well before it was declared unfit for occupancy in 2008. Take this opportunity to subscribe to AN Southwest and sign up for the Reimaging The Astrodome competition. These pictures show off several of the more impressive architectural and engineering features of the venerable structure, including the trusses and compression ring that support the 642-foot clear span of the lamella roof, the mechanisms that drive the movable seating sections, and the sensual 1960s modernist character of the exterior concrete screen wall with its stacked parallelograms.
During construction on the Buffalo Bayou Partnership's (BBP) Buffalo Bayou Park Shepherd to Sabine project—which began in 2010 and is seeking to transform the downtown park into a catalyst for making Houston a more livable city—workers rediscovered an underground concrete cistern that had been built in 1927 as the city's first drinking water reservoir. It performed decades of service before springing a leak that couldn't be located or contained, at which point the 87,500-square-foot subterranean chamber was sealed up and forgotten. Today, the old piece of infrastructure is an inspiring, if somewhat erie space. Accessed through manholes and 14-foot ladders, the man-made cavern features row upon row of cathedral-like 25-foot-tall columns standing in several inches of still water. BBP would like to see the space adaptively reused, but such an endeavor currently lies outside the scope of its Shepherd to Sabine project. So to drum up interest in renovating the space, the organization commissioned Houston company SmartGeoMetrics to create a 3D fly-through of the cistern.