Endangered: The 1990s Era NFL Dome

The Georgia Dome via New Klages The Georgia Dome via New Klages http://www.newklages.com/images/GeorgiaDome_web.jpg

Before officially turning out the lights on this year’s Football Season, we’re looking at St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome and Atlanta’s Georgia Dome (home of the Rams and Falcons), two children of the 90s whose days could be numbered. Both buildings are about 20 years old and both are seen as antiquated by their respective team owners – Stan Kroenke and Arthur Blank – and in need of either refurbishments or reconstruction. We’ll uncover the hidden beauty of these two uninspired, yet totally salvageable buildings, and reveal the few tweaks and modifications that would help bring them into the 21st Century.

The Georgia Dome
Home of the Atlanta Falcons
Capacity: 71,228
Atlanta, GA
Heery International, Rosser Fabrap International, TVS Architects and structural engineer Weidlinger Associates, 

Edward Jones Dome
Home of the St. Louis Rams
Capacity: 66,000
St. Louis, MO
Architect: Populous, 

It was the ’90s, the throwback Oriole Park in Baltimore was all the rage, the NFL was expanding, franchises were relocating and a subsequent stadium building spree was about to begin. The Georgia and Edward Jones Domes, built three years apart, were the first stadiums to be built of the fertile 90s-00s era. Both are downtown sports facilities that are part of larger convention center projects which host a variety of events including but not limited to Professional Football, conventions and trade shows, NCAA College Basketball Final Fours, College Football Bowl Games, Rock Concerts, Professional Wrestling and Monster Truck races. These urban, multi-purpose football venues are part of the re-urbanization of America’s cities began in the 1990s.

The Georgia Dome along with the 18,500-seat Philips Arena (home of the Atlanta Hawks) forms the southern component of the 3.9 million ft² Georgia World Congress Center. The entire complex together with the 21-acre Olympic Centennial Park built for the 1996 Summer Olympics, is a major tourist destination for the city of Atlanta.

The Georgia Dome with the downtown Atlanta skyline via Salon.com

The Edward Jones Dome is literally built into the 500,000 ft² America’s Center Convention Complex. The America’s Center is a smaller facility than its Atlanta counterpart, and as St. Louis boasts both Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Scottrade Center, home of the St. Louis Blues hockey team, across town, the Edward Jones Dome consequently doesn’t host the number of events on site as the Georgia Dome. However, the fact that the Dome and America’s Center are essentially one building enables the Dome to be used as an extension of the convention center, significantly increasing its square footage if need arises.

Edward Jones Dome and the downtown St. Louis skyline via Bleacher Report

Although both buildings are fixed domes, their respective roofs are quite different in conception. The Georgia Dome roof, is the largest cable supported tensile structure in the world and the Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric roof is a lightweight, translucent material that provides an incredible amount of light inside. The general form resembles a circus tent and the intricate pattern created by the triangulated panels and supporting structure forms an iconic roof unique to this facility.

The pillowy Georgia Dome Roof via Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Edward Jones Dome features a far more robust steel construction. A complex network of trusses combines with a hard, plastic exterior surface to make a roof that can withstand heavy snow loads and high storm winds. Unlike the Georgia Dome, which has had several structural failures in its two year history, the Edward Jones Dome has had none and though its lack of windows or translucent surfaces blocks out all natural light, its low-maintenance construction is worthy of note, if a bit dull.

Edward Jones Dome under construction via Groupe Canam Flickr

At their present state, both buildings are relatively banal edifices whose main feature is their utilitarian flexibility that allows them to hold many different events. The Georgia Dome exterior is almost square-shaped, each side featuring silver, black and red panels matching the color palette of the Atlanta Falcons. The corners are truncated by full height glass walls that are the primary entrance points to the stadium. A stretch of solid surface separates the top of the stadium and the dome roof is a mundane swath and a missed opportunity – glass infill panels could provide additional natural light into the dome, and would offer views to the surrounding Atlanta cityscape. Alternatively, this area could be lit at night similar to new exterior lighting at the Superdome (blackout jokes aside). Smartly placed LED lighting, similar to that at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center could enliven the elongated horizontality of the façade panels and reinforce the intended reference to the speeding traffic on nearby roadways.

The Georgia Dome exterior panels via Skyscraper City

The Edward Jones Dome designed by Populous features a similar neo-traditional design idea as their successful Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The red-brick exterior of the Dome is intended to fit into its historic, urban site while also breaking down the building’s massive scale. Though this is not as successful here as it lacks Baltimore’s iconic B&O Warehouse to reference, the less public Convention Plaza side is a nice blend of modern glass elements and traditional brick motif. The main façade on North Broadway is the eyesore, why it doesn’t match its more elegant side is not clear though a simple fix is.

The Edward Jones Dome entrance corner on North Broadway via Wikipedia
The much nicer Convention Plaza façade to the left via Skyline Scenes Flickr

The overall package of both buildings seems fine enough – surely just a few alterations and a 50-yard video screen away from seeming state-of-the-art, no? What gives? Why the urge to demolish two perfectly reasonable (if uninspired) stadiums? A dubiously subjective line in the Edward Jones Dome lease goes a long way to understanding each team owner’s beef. In the original lease the Rams signed with the city when they skipped Los Angeles on a sweetheart deal, is a line that the Edward Jones Dome be a “top tier” stadium in 2015 – twenty years after its opening. Whatever top tier ultimately means who knows, but as it and the Georgia Dome were built at the beginning of this stadium boom, for comparably lower amounts ($350 million and $420 million respectively, compared to $1 billion for the NY Giants and Jets’ shared home Met Life Stadium in 2010) both buildings priorities were different from that of current stadia. What seemed cool at the time – domes and convention centers – is out of fashion now, when cutting-edge is defined as retractable roofs and video boards.  But guess what? Trend chasing gets expensive when you’re talking billion dollar buildings in strained financial times – we’re not talking about jeans or kitchen appliances here. It gets especially tough to swallow when the bill will fall on tax payers who will see none of the promised revenue of a new stadium.

So Arthur Blank and Stan Kroenke, you don’t like your fixed domes anymore? Hang tight, hire someone to insert some natural light, build out additional fan-zones where possible and rest assure that fixed domes will be cool again.

Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, Italy via Brian Holihan