Now’s Maybe the Best Time To Enjoy a Parade of Astrodome Alternatives

What kind of crazy idea is this — an actual open design competition for proposals to remake the Astrodome? And even stranger: One where the winners are scheduled to be announced a few days after voters pass judgment on what county officials had already declared to be the only viable alternative to demolition? Only now — given the results — maybe the timing and the concept don’t seem so absurd?

“Reimagine the Astrodome,” of course, was meant to be a design competition — not one focused on financial or political viability. (Maybe some other folks could put together a corresponding challenge focusing on those aspects.) The sponsors, the Architects’ Newspaper and YKK AP (yeah, the company with its name on your zipper) were hoping that “winning proposals would serve either as a swan song for a doomed architectural icon, or as inspiration for its possible future.” And what came in? 23 submissions ranging from “feasible interventions . . . to wildly imaginative and utterly improbable schemes that nevertheless encapsulated the heady spirit that originally propelled this project to completion in the 1960s.” And the winner, as announced yesterday by a jury not looking for cash flows or approval by the Houston Texans and the Rodeo but rather “strength of concept” and “quality of presentation”: this parking garage. A monument, as the jury of designers put it, “to the pain in the ass that parking is in Houston.”


So, they know what you’re thinking: How do you get 13,000 cars (half the current extended-area total) into a single 9-acre AstroPark structure in time for kickoff — and out afterward without creating an internal traffic jam? The Dome insert conceived by Rice University architecture students David Richmond and Adam Wagner consists of 2 interlocking spiral ramps with 4 traffic lanes each, spinning up 18 floors of glorious car-stopping delight. Vertical louvers on the ramp perimeter are supposed to turn a looping drive into a cinematic-quality experience. Astroturf wraps the columns and the central ramps.

Leave your car there and forget about what goes on inside the Astrodome. What does it matter, really? Instead, think what nice things could be done with the outside of Houston’s oh-so-recognizable landmark — on what’s now a sea of concrete surrounding it — once so much parking’s safely taken care of. And how much shorter the walk to events could be.

Images of AstroPark: David Richmond and Adam Wagner

16 Comment

  • Just goes to show what a farce the entire process was from start to finish. These are actually well thought out, very interesting ideas. It’s a real shame it’s all moot, the Dome will be torn down, like the hollow hulk of the former Foley’s. The Harris County Commissioners will use this vote as shield as the move to remove this “rundown eyesore”, never admitting that they’re the ones then allowed it to deteriorate in the first place. This is all so Houston.

  • I’d vote for it.

  • How would you tailgate? I think that thousands of charcoal grills wouldn’t work in an enclosed area?

    And the Rodeo Ferris wheel and other rides?

    Also, there seems to be a practical limit on the size of arena that can be emptied in a reasonable amount of time (where land is available). Toyota Center – garage difficult but doable. Minute Maid and Reliant – probably intolerable to most drivers.

    Unless this comes with extended ramps or dedicated lanes going to Kirby, Fannin, Almeda, OST and 610, in doesn’t matter how many lanes are on the inside if they all diverge from the same spot.

    My instinct tells me it wouldn’t work, but if there are any traffic engineers that could chime in…

  • Ultimate Swamplot story: If only he Astrodome were in EaDo being torn down to build a Kroger Signature Store.

  • For the Ultimate Swamplot story it would be… “If only he Astrodome were in EaDo being torn down to build a Walmart Supercenter.”

  • Yes! This! 1)It’s a pragmatic compromise 2)parking is actually needed, whereas it’s not clear a new convention center is 3)all those acres of asphalt could be converted to new development 4)they could always reserve space for tailgaters 5)it both honors the Dome and Houston’s car-centric culture

  • “consists of 2 interlocking spiral ramps with 4 traffic lanes each, spinning up 18 floors of glorious car-stopping delight”

    and just think of the glory of 13,000 cars filled with drunken fans weaving all the way back down…..

  • There’s plenty of space to build a highway connector and some surface parking could be preserved for those who want to tailgate. The land could be sold or re-used, benefiting everyone involved.

    The ultimate irony is that if the Astrodome is torn down, a parking structure will likely someday occupy its footprint.

  • I’m sure the Texans are extrapolating that in 20 years they’ll be at the public troff asking for a billion plus for a new playpen and they can point to the parking lot where the Eighth Wonder of the World once stood (for not even 50 years) and say, hey there is the perfect spot, then proceed to get the county to rip down Reliant (at the counties cost of course), they 30 years later play the same game again, only asking 3 billion that time and so on and so on.

  • If the Dome becomes a Reliant parking lot, the Texans will incur a karmic load akin to the Cowboys, who leveled an entire neighborhood using eminent domain to build their pigskin palace. This debt will prevent either team from ever winning a world championship. 50 years from now Texans fans will bemoan the Curse of the Commissioners. And as an event that glorifies the raising of animals for slaughter and drunken debauchery, the Rodeo is already a cursed event.

  • I’m no engineer but it seems to me that ventilating all the car exhaust from that building would be a problem. Especially after a game while half the cars in there idled in the mother of all traffic jams. And what would be involved in building the supports to hold up that kind of weight, especially when you can’t rely on the outside walls, which were never designed for that purpose? It might be cheaper and more feasible to knock down the dome and build a parking garage with the same shape, if that’s a big deal to people.

  • Looking at the above displays, I cannot keep from thinking of the Galactic Congress from “Star Wars”. Well I like the idea of the parking garage, it’s just not economically viable.

    What I have always envisioned for the Astrodome is that it be converted into a wholesale or free trade center … essentially one stop shopping for the hemisphere. The economic benefit (and bragging rights) to the city would be huge.

    Think big my friends.

  • @Jack, why couldn’t you just remove the concrete walls and leave the steel skeleton in place? One of the proposals was to turn it into a giant gazebo. This could be that, except without all the pesky wasteful living greenery, and we’d have a place to put the cars. Gotta have a place to put the cars.

    In all seriousness, I don’t think exiting this thing will be any worse than trying to get out of the parking lot. And of course you’d have the revenue from the fees, so it would pay for itself eventually.

  • The proposal sounds like a snide joke on Houston’s auto-centricity. Give us a real proposal, something with optimism and imagination like the Astrodome itself had, not this postmodern garbage.

  • The feasibility of constructing this is not really there. The cost it would take to built this would far exceed tearing the astrodome down and re-building a new garage that resembles the astrodome. It is a cool concept though in which financial viability was not a factor.

  • How about you give us a real proposal, Mike? I like this one. If optimism isn’t dreaming of turning Gridiron’s sea of asphalt into a lush garden by repurposing an existing structure as redundant and useless as this one (with little to no visual impact to the exterior, I might add), I don’t know what is.

    Anse, I see where you’re coming from; however, this city has landed man on the moon and drilled for oil under thousands of feet of water. I think we can handle challenging HVAC.