The ongoing dilemma of what to do with the Astrodome has been one of the more amusing sideshows in Houston over the past couple of years. Suggestions have ranged from the brutally utilitarian (turning it into a massive parking garage) to the whimsical (transforming it into a monument to Billie Jean King, whose victory in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match took place beneath the Dome). In late July the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo—which, until it departed in 2003, was the structure’s last tenant—suggested another idea: dismantle the legendary one-million-square-foot building and replace it with a lot of green space and, at the center, a 25,000-square-foot replica of the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World.
The elfin structure, designed by the Houston office of the global architecture firm Gensler, was quickly dubbed the Tiny Astrodome. Gensler’s plans call for the itty-bitty edifice to serve as an Astrodome museum, so that the original building’s storied legacy—Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter, Earl Campbell’s record-setting 1980 season, Selena’s final televised concert—will not be lost to history. Outside, a series of 72 columns tracing the outline of the original, non-tiny Astrodome would form a ring around a great yard that would host everything from concerts to festivals.
Generally speaking, it’s hard not to support this—tiny things are adorable. One imagines a Tiny Astrodome Cafe that will serve tiny nachos, tiny hot dogs, and tiny beers in tiny plastic cups, and a Tiny Astrodome Gift Shop that will sell tiny souvenir replicas of the Tiny Astrodome, until the entire building is basically Inception-ed into a teeny-tiny version of itself.
Still, it’s tough to believe that this fanciful notion would have gotten much attention if the Texans and the rodeo weren’t such powerful players in town. Not everyone is wildly enthusiastic. David Coleman, the managing editor of SB Nation’s Astros blog Crawfish Boxes, sounds grudging at best in his praise of the proposal. “It’s not going to be what it was,” says Coleman, who would love for his son to have the sort of Astrodome experience he had growing up. “But at least with this proposal you get to keep the iconic shape in the space, as opposed to turning it into a parking lot.”
Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County’s highest elected official and a vocal proponent of preserving the structure, is even less enthused. In late August he suggested returning the Astrodome to its roots as a facility that brought outdoor activities into a comfortable, climate-controlled environment. “There aren’t a lot of other buildings with over three hundred thousand square feet of column-free space,” Emmett says. “What other outdoor activities can we put in there?” Citing another recent addition to Houston civic life, he envisions a “Discovery Green on steroids,” with hike-and-bike trails, an archery range, a venue for the state horseshoe tournament, and an indoor version of an outdoor pavilion. “The last few weeks have been in the upper nineties,” he says in the hot, waning days of summer. “I think we can put it to good use.”