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Re-Imagining Uses for the Astrodome

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The Astrodome’s ship has all but sailed: Houston voters last week decided, by a margin of 53 to 47, not to turn it into a convention and events center. While there’s still the chance that a private investor will attempt to redevelop the space, or that the city will hold another vote before the building’s as-yet-unscheduled demolition, the fate of the building is probably decided, and it probably doesn’t look good. 

Still, if the Astrodome were to be redeveloped, what would that look like? The city has solicited proposals in the past, though none have progressed very far—and the fact that Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation Executive Director Willie Loston told KXAN that they range “from the sublime to the ridiculous” may be a part of why. So when Architect’s Newspaper announced the winners of their Astrodome redevelopment proposal contest, we took note: maybe there’s a good idea in that bunch? 

“Good” might be too strong a way to put it for some, but “sublime to ridiculous” is still at play here. Feel free to take a look at their four winners and determine where they fit

1st Place: AstroPark
The idea of redeveloping the Astrodome as “a monument to the pain in the ass that parking in Houston is” seems appropriate, and a 13,000-car parking lot for Reliant Stadium would probably beat contending with the people holding hand-painted cardboard “$20 parking” signs when pulling into a Texans game. The design even has a plan for how to allow 13,000 cars to get in and out of the garage relatively quickly: 

To achieve this, two interlocking spiral ramps connecting 18 floors of parking are dropped into the empty center of the Astrodome, each wide enough to allow four lanes of traffic. In this central space, a kinetic experience on a grand scale flickers by as cars speed up and down the ramps, which are encompassed by a ring of vertical louvers that tease small views of the endless rows of parking. Astroturf clads the columns as well as the central ramps in tribute to the Astrodome’s optimistic past.

None of that makes a lick of sense to us, but that would be one heck of a parking garage. 

2nd Place: The Houston Ark
When climate change raises the sea level high enough to drown all of Galveston and then Houston itself, how will the future race of half-human/half-fish people learn about the cultural contributions of Houstonians? If the Astrodome is renovated and filled with a huge array of important artifacts, and the structure is built so that in the event of rising waters it could float away.

3rd Place: The New Astrodome
While the Ark and a parking garage that 13,000 Houstonians could easily get in and out of after hours of drinking at Reliant Stadium are basically sci-fi ideas (or at least speculative fiction), the New Astrodome is downright practical by comparison: it’s basically a massive, world-class, cutting-edge planetarium. 

The dome’s ceiling becomes a video surface, allowing for endless variations on the interior environment. From stargazing to swimming with whales, the New Astrodome is a glimpse into all scales of the universe, breaking the notion of a spatial constant.

A transparent torus rings the perimeter of the dome. Occupied by various programmatic uses, it is divided into four sections, which symbolize the Milky Way, solar system, earth, and Houston through the use of color and geometric representations. Visitors move through these four sections, experiencing the spatial relationships between each.

That sounds pretty neat. 

4th Place: The King Of Texas
It’s definitely a worthwhile idea: perhaps the most significant of the historic events to take place at the Astrodome (ahead of some pretty good football games and some Nolan Ryan no-hitters) was the Battle of the Sexes tennis between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, in which King handidly clobbered the 55-year-old one-time champ. The King Of Texas idea would repurpose the building as a monument to King and the other “Original 9” professional women’s tennis players. 

Without taking anything away from King or the other Original 9, the Astrodome is probably an outsized venue for such a monument. Still, given how rarely achievements in women’s sports are publicly honored, it’d be a pretty cool symbolic victory for all of the female athletes whose successes have not been properly memorialized. 

(Image via The Architect’s Newspaper)

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