Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (5) Posted 11.06.13 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Mark Lamster

Can the Doomed Astrodome Save Modernism?




Earlier this week, Houston voters declined to fund a bond initiative to renovate the Astrodome, meaning the landmark bubble known as the Eighth Wonder of the World is likely to be demolished. It's a bitter pill. The historical significance of the building as the first multipurpose domed stadium is considerable, and its various innovations are remarkable testaments to the outsized, can-do spirit that defined America generally and Texas in particular at midcentury. Here was a building that befitted a city and a nation shooting men into space. 

If it never worked perfectly, the place had a sense of optimism about it. How could you not be charmed by such an enormous, open room with its luminous, lucite panel ceiling? The place had its own weather patterns, not to mention female ushers — Spacettes — who wandered the aisles in gold lame, an electronic scoreboard before they were a commonplace, and of course its eponymous fake grass. (Installed after the real stuff failed to grow.) This was the future, a pleasure dome, surrounded by an ocean of parking, a place suited to an automotive city.

The Astros never managed a World Series in the place — but, oh, those uniforms — and the Oilers didn't win the Super Bowl. So what? Billie Jean King dispatched Bobby Riggs in their famous Battle of the Sexes, one of the signal moments in 20th century American culture.

In a recent article in Architect magazine tied to the destruction of Prentice Hospital in Chicago — another travesty — my Design Observer colleague Alexandra Lange suggested the modern preservation movement was in need of a Penn Station Moment; the destruction of a monument so beloved that it would galvanize a movement to prevent future travesties. The Astrodome is as good a test case for that theory as one could hope to find. It is the single most recognizable building in Houston, a symbol of the city, and if it is lost, the city will regret its decision for generations to come. (It's truly hard to imagine a city intentionally destroying its signature work of architecture.) 

But for all that, if it is torn down, I strongly suspect it will fail to inspire a movement. I doubt any building could. I suspect the future will be about incremental gains and losses, and the best those of us who believe in modern preservation can do is fight the good fight as best we can, using every tool available. It's not going to come easy. 

To the barricades!

@marklamster
|
Share This Story

Comments (5)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

The design media has become so toxified with bullshit that we have been led to believe that Prentice Hospital (or the Astrodome, sorry) were worth saving because they symbolize something; was it the branded term "Brutalism" or is it now "american optimism."

They are ugly, decrepit, not useful buildings. They are not firm, commodified or delightful. Penn Station was a rich piece of architecture worth saving. These, not so much.

I think it's time to go back to judging things based on what they are, not the gimmicky term of the week that they symbolize.


11.07.13 at 01:09

"ugly, decrepit, not useful"

the first is your opinio, and the latter two can be ameliorated. i don't think there's anything "gimmicky" about the attachment so many have to a building that is in many ways extraordinary, and has been an important part of local and national history.

11.07.13 at 10:58

I would have hope by now the discussion about conserving built history had moved beyond a discussion about aesthetic merit.
The discussion needs to include a full understanding of the time and times since. Without that, no meaningful answer can be rendered, and then everything subverts to the balance sheet.

11.11.13 at 12:48

Moved beyond aesthetic merit?

I find it strange that any other critique would be useful. Not that other meanings don't have there value, but at the end of the day, a beautiful building is confirmed by popular sentiment as well as thoughtful critique which is not common these days. I don't think it's useful to judge buildings by what period or style they have, but by the craft and skill of its particular context. If the Astrodome is beloved, then so be it, but if not, it doesn't have any real use.

11.12.13 at 11:10

Have you heard about the loss of the Civic Arena--the world's first retractable dome sports arena--in Pittsburgh?

11.12.13 at 09:45


Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture. A contributing editor to Architectural Review, he is currently at work on his third book, a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow: @marklamster.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









RELATED POSTS


Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).

The Astrodome and the Challenges of Preservation
The Astrodome and the future of preservation.

Not Afraid of Noise: Mexico City Stories
A photographic tour of Mexico City, house by house, wall by wall.

Genzken and the City
A review of Isa Genzken's current retrospective on view at the MOMA.

Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.