Grad proposes future for Astrodome
What began as a casual conversation with a friend has, within days, received significant media attention and become a prevalent topic of discussion among Houstonians. Former graduate student Ryan Slattery’s idea to reduce the Astrodome to its metal frame and create green space beneath it was made public on Reddit.com and has since been acknowledged on various forums, from the Houston Chronicle to Mayor Annise Parker’s Facebook page.
“It was the first of its kind,” Slattery said. “Literally, there was nothing like it in the world. Houston is slowly becoming a city with no history, and this is a history you want to hold on to.”
Turning it into a parking lot is among the countless ideas under consideration with regard to what should be done with the Astrodome, but Slattery presents an idea, which may appease those concerned with economics and those interested in historic preservation.
Rafael Longoria, professor and co-director of Graduate Studies at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, said all Master of Architecture candidates complete a master project as a capstone of their professional program. The project was designed for students to explore architectural problems they felt needed to be addressed. Slattery completed his project and received his master’s in the Fall.
Slattery said he considered a lot of ideas in Houston before deciding on his project.
“I looked at architectural problems throughout the city — the idea of green vs. gray, historical preservation and responsible repurposing of facilities that have outlived their function,” Slattery said.
He said that because the Astrodome is what people think about when referring to Houston, he used it to further those over-arching conversations about things that need to be addressed across the city — not just the dome. Although his proposal may not resolve the systemic problem, the hope is that it offers some semblance of a solution to the various issues.
“It’s not just, ‘What do we do with the dome?’ The issue has always been bigger than that,” Slattery said.
Slattery also said stripping it down to its metal frame would provide flexible green space, which could be used in a variety of ways.
“This is something we can use to promote the history of our city as well as our ability to preserve that history in a constructive way — one that repurposes built objects in a functional, practical manner,” Slattery said.
Longoria said students present their projects publicly to a group of guest “jurors” from around the country during jury week. They are offered feedback on the relevance of their projects, their design and technical skills, along with the ability to communicate graphically and verbally.
“Having it in the public realm is kind of like a jury. You not only get people who appreciate them and like the idea, but you’re also getting people who have a different way of looking at preserving the Astrodome. And those opinions matter just as much,” Slattery said.
Slattery survived jury week, and he’ll be under a little less pressure the next time his project will be on display — following the University commencement in May, particular students will be distinguished for their master projects at the college’s awards ceremony.
Since the Astrodome is owned by the residents of Harris County, the ultimate decision rests with the Harris County Commissioners Court. Joe Stinebaker, communications director for county judge Ed Emmett, said using the dome’s external structure as a covered shell has been one of the primary uses discussed in previous years.
But as with every proposal, the problem is money.
“Almost everyone in Harris County and Texas has an idea about what to do with the Astrodome,” Stinebaker said. “Ideas are abundant. But the money to implement those ideas is not.”
He said Emmett believes that, ultimately, the fate of the dome will likely be presented to county taxpayers in the form of a bond election.
Slattery said he understands no undertaking of this scale is going to be cheap.
“The idea of millions should give anyone pause,” Slattery said. “But to discard history because preserving it is hard is a problem for me.”
Regardless of the outcome, Slattery said he wants the focus to remain on improving Houston and remaining true to its past.
“(The focus is) how we approach how our city is shaped — as designers, as public officials and as citizens — and how we preserve our history,” Slattery said.
“Yes, these projects cost money and yes, they take time, but conversation is cheap. You don’t lose anything by simply continuing the conversation,” he said.
As a native Houstonian and someone who attended the playoff game against the Atlanta Braves — the last game the Astros played in the Astrodome — this piece of history holds a certain sentiment for Slattery.
“If they demolish the dome, you very well might see a grown man cry,” Slattery said. “But if I can further the conversation in a constructive way, I can take some solace in that.”