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