[ 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, email@example.com.) ] 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
Posts tagged with "Stadiums":
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.”
The All England Club has unveiled its Grimshaw-designed Wimbledon Master Plan, which establishes a vision for the future of the site and a structure to direct the ongoing development and improvement of the Club. The Master Plan draws on existing assets and reflects the history of The Championships while resolving certain challenges that the site presents. Three new grass courts will be repositioned to ease overcrowding, No. 1 Court will be reworked and a fresh landscape scheme will enhance and define public areas. Key objectives include reinforcing Wimbledon as a world-class sporting venue of national and international significance, conserving the site’s exclusive legacy and guaranteeing that all new building is of first-class quality. To accomplish this, the Master Plan resolves chief operational concerns and develops effective transport solutions. Plans for the site incorporate a reduced-height Indoor Courts Building within an improved landscaped setting. The courts will sit atop basement areas for courtesy car operation, clay courts will be repositioned and a tunnel will ensure discreet access to the new building. A fixed and retractable roof is on the agenda for No. 1 Court, which will allow for continuous play, rain or shine. As for No. 2 and 3 Courts, each will offer more space for unreserved seating and access between the improved grass courts will be widened. Revamped landscaping will bolster the tree-lined boulevard leading to a new entrance plaza. The Master Plan calls for an additional plaza to the south and a press lawn. The southern entrance will also be extended. A new restaurant and public concessions will accompany a sustainable green roof. The plan aims to decrease carbon emissions from the grounds. The Master Plan emphasizes the ‘Tennis in an English Garden’ theme through a series of unique areas set within a cohesive landscape framework.
Zaha Hadid is on a stadium kick of late. Work has already begun for the design of a 2022 FIFA World Cup Stadium to be built in Qatar by Zaha Hadid Architects and AECOM. The 45,000-seat stadium is meant to visually embody an oasis and will be built 12 miles southeast of capital-city, Doha. The stadium will be built alongside historical buildings, including mosques and archeological sites, and its design looks to mediate between modern sports facility design and the historic context. Hadid has also taken the unrelenting heat that characterizes the region into the stadium's design by including cooling technology and climate control systems. The stadium will also be outfitted with a spa, an aquatic center and other sporting facilities. The facility is designed to be reduced in scale after the World Cup games to a final capacity of 25,500 seats. [Via Designboom.]
Last year, plans were floated to build a new $300 million, 25,000-seat, Major League Soccer stadium in Queens' Flushing Meadows Corona Park, to be designed by SHoP Architects. Because of the contentious nature of using public park land to build a stadium, the project had remained out of public view, but early conceptual renderings were leaked by the Empire of Soccer blog following a lecture by SHoP principal Gregg Pasquarelli at Columbia University. According to Empire of Soccer, in a video of the lecture posted and since removed from Youtube, Pasquarelli is heard saying, "The project I’m not supposed to show (you) so I am not going to tell you where it is or what it is but it’s a new stadium that should be announced in the next couple of months." He described the facility as a new type of stadium without walls. According to Capital New York, MLS president Mark Abbott denied that the proposed stadium would look like the renderings and that SHoP may not be designing the final stadium, stating: "These drawings do not represent what they stadium will look like. In fact, we haven't selected an architect yet and will not start the design process until we have an owner for the club. This was simply a concept drawing that was done only to help determine the potential height and footprint. Any assertion that these drawings represent what a stadium will look like in Queens is wrong.
In recent weeks we've seen a number of important developments in Downtown Los Angeles, like the groundbreaking of the Arquitectonica-designed apartments on Grand Avenue, and the topping out of The Broad next door. The red-hot area continues to make headlines, from the advancement of its upcoming streetcar to the murkiness of its proposed football stadium. •The city's Downtown Streetcar, which last month received funding from a tax on downtown residents, has gotten more good news. According to Curbed LA, LA City Council on March 7 approved an operational plan committing up to $294 million of Measure R transportation tax money to cover the operation and maintenance of the system. The streetcar will travel in a loop along Broadway, Figueroa Street, and other main thoroughfares between the city's Civic Center to its Convention Center. •According to Yahoo Sports, anonymous sources in the NFL have said that AEG and Gensler's Downtown LA stadium (rendered at top) in South Park is looking less and less likely. "The numbers just don't work, no matter how you look at the deal," a "league source" told Yahoo. "It's either too hard for AEG to make money [and pay the debt on the stadium] or too hard for the team. I just can't see a way for it to work." Some have said that the NFL favors a new stadium in Chavez Ravine. Stay tuned. •The LA Times reports that Singapore developer Overseas Union Enterprise has agreed to buy the Pei Cobb Freed-designed, 72-story U.S. Bank Building, the tallest building in California. The developer will be buying the building from MPG Office Trust for $367.5 million. "Its cylindrical design is an inefficient layout for an office building," real estate analyst Jed Reagan of Green Street Advisors told the Times.
Global architecture and design practice Populous, designer of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, has been selected as architect for a large new stadium in the compact town of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, a city of just over 1 million people about 650 miles south of Moscow. Designed to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, the stadium is Populous' fourth design for a sports venue in Russia and will contain an anticipated 45,000 seats under a cloud-like, seemingly-floating canopy. Set along the Don River, the Rostov Stadium design takes into account the surrounding landscape by drawing inspiration from kurgans—archeological mounds of earth formed along river banks and once used for pagan rituals—with artificial hills pushed up around the stadium's perimeter. Populous took an environmentally conscious stance in their proposal, aiming to protect wetlands south of the River near the stadium site. The stadium itself is sheltered by a balloon-like roof consisting of two long panels around its perimeter—each resembling a smooth, curving paintbrush stroke from above—with a central opening allowing light onto the playing field. External paths and entrances to the venue continue this theme with more curves and soft winding lines. For the World Cup, the stadium will have a capacity of 45,000 seats, which will later be scaled down to 25,000 seats.
Zaha Hadid wins again! Following a star-studded design competition, the Japanese Sports Council has announced Hadid as the winner of the New National Stadium in Japan, beating out Toyo Ito, SANAA, Populous, UN Studio among others and taking home a $250,000 prize. All-star designer of London's 2012 Aquatics Center for the summer Olympics and the first female to ever win the Pritzker Architecture prize, Hadid continues her legacy with this new stadium in Tokyo. Estimated to cost around $1.6 billion, the venue will seat 80,000 visitors and sport a retractable roof. Japanese architect and jury chair, Tadao Andao, commented on Hadid's fluid design as a complement to the crowded Tokyo landscape as well as being environmentally efficient and able to fit the strict completion deadline. "It has dynamism, which is most essential to sport and its streamlined shape fits its internal space. It is also new in terms of structural technology," Ando told the AFP. The stadium's smooth and sinuous white curves fall in line with Hadid's futuristic style and should play a unique addition to the city's terrain. The new structure replaces the existing 54,000-seat national stadium that featured prominently in Japan's 1964 Olympics. The new stadium will have a similar capacity as Beijing's Olympic "Bird's Nest" stadium—91,000 seats—and will feature an all-weather roof. Construction is set to begin in 2015 with a completion scheduled in 2018. Hadid's new stadium design will play host to the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and may even hold the 2020 Summer Olympics should Tokyo be granted its request to host them.
A new sports stadium designed by Lebanon’s MZ Architects, though experimental, differs from the glitz and glam we've become accustomed to seeing from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Instead of showing off with dramatic curves and shiny glass, the proposed "Rock Stadium" would be buried in the Al Ain desert and will work with the natural elements, being concealed by the its rocky landscape. Situated within the Jebel Hafeet mountain range, the 660,000-square foot, 40,000-seat “Rock Stadium” is carved into its mountainous backdrop, also using using local rock to mimic the desert’s unique patterns and innate character. From a distance the stadium blurs into its background, but up close visitors are led through grand passageways inspired by the Greek temple of Anahita leading down to the hidden green playing field. At night, beams of light would illuminate the sky above the stadium, becoming an emblem for national events and activity. Architects worked with a team of geologists, stone specialists, and cave experts to determine the project's feasibility. "The original thought was to build a stand-alone stadium but, when I saw the site, I knew it would be perfect to carve into the mountain," architect Marwan Zgheib told The National. "I think it is the dream of every architect to work on a design which focuses on sustainability through design more than through technology." While the Rock Stadium is still only a proposal, Zgheib hopes it could eventually be built. Already, the project won an Emirates Glass LEAF award for Best Future Building recognizing top global design in September. No construction timeline has been announced.
Twin Cities sports fans may be most excited about Sunday’s victory on the field, but a twinge of that satisfaction could be due to the team’s new stadium. Minnesota’s Sports Facilities Authority chose HKS architects to design a new home for the NFL’s Vikings. HKS also designed Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and Cowboys Stadium in their home base of Dallas—two of the most high-profile NFL construction projects in recent memory. A decision on the lead contractor for the project has yet to come down, but news of the $975 million stadium’s designer is the latest announcement in a long and at-times contentious political process that subsidizes professional sports in Minneapolis. Face-painted fans turned out to city council meetings as the deal cleared hurdles. With respected stadium architects on board, supporters may anticipate validation for their use of public funds. Those opposed maintain only time will tell, no matter the designer.
Big-time sports architect Dan Meis, who has designed, among other projects, LA's Staples Center and Seattle's Safeco Field, is on the move yet again. In the span of just a few years he has shuffled from his own practice to Aedas, then back to his own firm to Populous, to his own firm again, and now he is joining Australian firm Woods Bagot Sport to become its global director. Exciting opportunties? Commitment issues? "I'm not crazy about having been with a couple of different firms in a short time period," admitted Meis. But he sees it differently: "For me it feels like I’ve been in the same practice all along. It just feels like I've been associated with a lot of firms." So why Woods Bagot? Not only has the firm made a strong commitment to sports (an issue he had at Aedas when the economy took a hit), but Meis won't have to compete internally to work on major projects (a problem he ran into at Populous). The final straw at Populous came when the firm took on plans for a new LA Convention Center by AEG, putting him into direct conflict with one of his existing projects, a football stadium for LA's City of Industry. (AEG is proposing a competing stadium in Downtown LA.) Meanwhile Meis will get to continue working on a number of his recent projects, including the City of Industry football stadium, a soccer arena in Rome, and an arena for the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
It's a story that's been told in city after city. If you build it, they won't leave. Professional sports teams hold cities hostage, playing on the loyalty of fans to get expensive, taxpayer-funded facilities, while displaying little civic loyalty of their own. Anyway! In Minneapolis, the Vikings have said they won't decamp for Los Angeles if the city and state agree to help build a new $975 million stadium on the site of the Metrodome, according to the Star-Tribune. The new Metrodome would be built in time for the 2016 season, but only if the state agrees to a $398 million subsidy and the city agrees to forgo $150 in hospitality taxes. Details about the design are sketchy at best. A rendering presented at the press conference was developed by HKS Architects several years ago, though an aerial rendering differs somewhat from the HKS design.