When the Superdome was still just a framework in the sky, Dave Dixon, the force behind both getting the dome erected and a football franchise to go with it, talked about what an addition the building would be to the skyline. Not only would the building be tall, but it would be wider than anything else. The dome would be pervasive. He was right. What we saw as being a football stadium with a top, he knew would also be a bold splash on the urban landscape. Even with office towers nearby, pieces of the big curved roof fill in visual gaps. We’re used to the sight, but imagine a traveler coming into town for the first time suddenly seeing the golden saucer in the distance. It must be imposing.
In this our annual architecture issue we look at what is new, but here we pause to recognize a building set in a city best known for its quaint European architecture, but that is thoroughly modern and thoroughly American.
For any architect to be successful (in the case of the dome the New Orleans firm of Curtis and Davis), there also needs to be the skill of the planner and, if it is a public building, the politicians. The dome benefitted from both. Houston’s Astrodome was the first of the domes. We learned from their technology, but the decision was also made to make ours bigger and better with more capacity to grow. Today the Astrodome is a seldom-used thimble in the plains. Houston has all the major sports, but none are played in the Astrodome. Other cities, including Seattle, Minneapolis and Indianapolis would build domes, but they were done on the cheap and were eventually replaced. Smaller domes were built in other places, but there was no professional team to go with them.
Through the years, the Superdome has been renovated and modernized. Gradually an entertainment area has evolved around it and the multicolored exterior action lighting makes the building even more imposing at night.
Back in Dave Dixon’s day, the cost of the dome was underestimated and the building’s potential – including a major league baseball team and festivals nearly every night, were overestimated by its advocates, but sometimes it takes hutzpah; to get great projects moving. (We wonder what promises the Roman Emperor Vespasian made in building support for the Colosseum.)
While those who are daring get immortality, the cautious get balanced budgets.
We honor the dome in many ways, though with only one quibble. Perhaps the field lighting needs to be improved so that referees can see better.