Here are Christopher Hawthorne's closing words:
As Douglas Pegues Harvey put it in Texas Architect magazine, the Astrodome aimed to do nothing less than free the sporting event "from its dependency on Nature's caprice and God's sky." Its designers even thought they could use real grass inside, despite the closed roof. But glare through the window panes at the top of the dome was so distracting to fielders that the ceiling was soon painted over. The grass died, leading directly to the first appearance of AstroTurf, another icon of controlled nature.
The Superdome never had any of that space-age glamour; its architecture was always more about using brute structural force to create a huge, column-free interior space, known at the time of its opening as the biggest room in America. It is not a pretty building, but it has always been able to rely on its sheer capacity to attract events like the Super Bowl and the GOP convention.
Still, it has been experiencing a long, slow decline. In recent years, the Superdome's primary tenants, the NFL's Saints, have been seeking a new home, and the stadium has been an easy symbol of the team's misfortunes on the field. The Astrodome, meanwhile, which the Astros fled at the end of the 1999 season and now sits empty most of the time, suffered an even steeper fall from grace.
It is not just the architecture of the two domes, however, that is looking outdated this week. It is the very idea they embody so fully: that modern buildings — and, by extension, modern cities — can offer perfect protection against the elements, that Mother Nature is neither a vital source nor a threat but simply a nuisance. That notion is one victim of Katrina that none of us needs mourn.