planning seems to have provided for almost everything except those suffering
from acrophobia. Walking up ramps to the highest seat will require the
fortitude of a stunt man—the top row is 168 vertical feet from the playing
surface—and walking back down will require an act of faith. The highest tier of
seats is pitched at a breathtaking 34�. This was necessary for the best
football viewing. The seats have straight backs and sturdy arms for a
"maximum security profile." The television camera may pick up row upon
row of white knuckles and pale faces when it scans what in times past would be
the bleachers. Such normal activities as holding a GO SAINTS! sign with both
hands would be foolhardy. But demonstrations of fervor may be unnecessary with
four 90-foot scoreboards ringing the Dome with exploding matrix-lighting side
effects. Those who savor the notion of human error will be pleased to hear it
was discovered recently that some 2,500 spectators in the Dome—among them
guests in the box suites—can see no scoreboard whatsoever. A quarter of a
million dollars will be spent to remedy the situation.
like the Astrodome before it, will be a tourist attraction even if not so much
as a game of marbles is played there. Tourism is Louisiana's second largest
industry, lagging only behind its port operations, and the Dome Commission
knows it can benefit from just the right mixture of sport and convention usage.
It is a juggling act that requires grit. Ben Levy, the executive director of
the Dome, is at the same time charged with negotiating the Saints' rental
contract and planning the 1981 National School Boards meeting. "Sometimes I
put on a hard hat and walk out on the 50-yard line and look around," he
says. "I tell myself, 'Levy, you'd better run.' " If Ben's job is a
challenge, he also sees the Dome as one. "Go ahead, world. Top this,"
he says defiantly.
One event already
contracted for is that humid slice of Americana, Mardi Gras. One krewe (a
private social club) of Mardi Gras, Bacchus, which has already
"nationalized" its parade with guest kings like Bob Hope and Jim
Nabors, plans to end its parade in the Superdome. Blaine Kern, a member of
Bacchus and the designer and builder of its spectacular Mardi Gras floats, has
wild plans. "We've already started building a life-size model of the Statue
of Liberty to be assembled in the Dome during the two weeks of Mardi Gras,"
he says. "It is made of cloth and papier-m�ch�. And the floats! After they
travel through the narrow streets they'll open like peacocks in the
Mardi Gras is a
$25-million-a-year business and the Dome will add its share of revenue. Present
plans call for the Bacchus krewe to draw its floats up in a circle and have its
dinner dance on the playing floor with 6,000 invited guests. The public would
not be overlooked on this occasion. Tourists could pay a dollar or two to sit
in the stands and watch the festivities. With four smaller parties planned in
the convention quadrants and shown in simulcast on the giant TV, it should be a
fun evening for spectators. It may seem strange to pay a dollar to watch Bob
Hope have dinner or to see Jim Nabors dance, but we've been doing it for years
with the Tonight Show. The Dome makes this screen/magazine syndrome
restaurateur Pip Brennan is right about the Superdome and buildings like it.
"Lots of people at the Super Bowl never get to the stadium, and they don't
care. At the Kentucky Derby thousands never see the race, or know precisely
when it is run. Recently I was with a group in a private box attending a Dallas
Cowboy game in Arlington. If you heard the crowd cheer, you'd go over to the
window and look out. And if a touchdown was made, you'd say, 'Gee, that's
nice,' but going there was the thing." Like a giant rock concert at which
many young people don't even hear a guitar chord struck, being there, being a
part of the scene, the mood, the crowd, is the thing. And now Mom and Dad can
enjoy the same feeling in a color-coordinated, catered, temperature-controlled
sort of way.
will be a population-gathering place, like the old French Opera House. But
working on it is more like building the Tower of Babel.
Head of the Superdome design team
The rain of
Superfacts never ceases, like precipitation in New Orleans. There is so much
rain and, at 9� acres, the roof of the Superdome is so large, that special
basins had to be built in the eaves to catch the water. Otherwise the flow off
the Dome roof could flood downtown New Orleans. A network of pipes drains off
the water during dry periods.
On a sun-washed
afternoon, Buster Curtis strolls through the French Quarter, speaking with love
of the old buildings. In his olive poplin suit, circa 1955, and with his
private table at venerable Antoine's he hardly seems the man to have designed
the Dome, and when he says, "Less is more," the old Bauhaus dictum,
while walking among the elegant iron railings and leafy courtyards of the
Quarter, it is almost shocking.
"The way you
design a megastructure like the Dome is to start from the inside out," says
Curtis.' 'We began with a football field. Baseball was the second consideration
and then the convention necessities. The most economical way to enclose this
space, after we used computers to design the best maximum viewing for games,
was a giant dome."
Orleans is the only city that could truly profit from a Superdome. The respect
for the past and the concern for the future are more harmonious there than in
most cities. Where else could you hear an architect, standing in front of the
ornate town house of a famed 19th century chess master, say, "The Dome is
round only at night, you know. It is so large and under such a complex of
tensions and thrusts that in the heat of the day it bulges out as much as nine
inches. We used hinged columns, and the roof can expand and contract." For
$163 million a building should be able to breathe.