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Windowless, temperature and humidity controlled by 9,000 tons of computerized air conditioning, illuminated by total theatrical lighting, hushed by a 9�-acre acoustical-membrane ceiling and 75,000 square yards of carpeting, Starship Superdome begins the countdown to a voyage through years of sports events, spectacles, conventions and entertainment with a capacity of 97,365 passengers.
Sheathed in golden anodized aluminum it looms over the skyline of New Orleans. Its shadow falls on the pastel charm of the French Quarter, and its reflection is visible in the plate glass of the city's high-rise office buildings. You could watch a game in the Houston Astrodome, walk outside for some distance and still be inside the Superdome. Saint Peter's Square and its mighty basilica (except for the lofty dome) would fit inside. And wonders of the ancient world suffer by comparison, too. Although taller, the Great Pyramid of Cheops has a volume of a mere 90,700,000 cubic feet, easy prey in the maw of Superstatistics.
Like a gigantic metal mushroom pushing up through the soil, the Superdome belongs in a futuristic landscape, to a future age of the city and of sport. It may come to represent change, like that first cleated footprint in the lunar dust.
With the right permits, one can sit alone on a Sunday morning in the empty shell of the largest room ever built for human use. The only sounds are the cooing of trapped pigeons and the trickle of rainwater on the concrete stands. A single guy rope soars like Jack's beanstalk from an air compressor on the playing field to the center of the ceiling, and in the seats a pile of crayfish shells and an empty beer can testify to recent human occupancy. On a normal construction day, with upwards of 800 workmen in the Dome, it is possible to come into the vast main arena and not see one of them. Sit alone in the Dome, and possibility opens its clenched fist. You don't hear the roar of 80,000 football fans as much as the turmoil of delegations at a political convention or newsreel sound tracks of the Nuremberg rallies.
Sunlight slicing through the still-uncovered crown draws shafts of humidity toward the faraway ceiling in imitation of the weather outside. But this is only a flirtation with the organic. Soon the aluminum shell and polyurethane roof will be complete, the carefully pruned, low-maintenance dead birches will be placed in the lobbies, and sport will move into a spaceship environment of total control.
On a Sunday morning in New Orleans with the tourists and conventioneers tucked into their air-conditioned cubicles dreaming of Al Hirt and sloe-gin fizzes it is difficult to imagine that somewhere out there in the wilds of the American Dream some prime loony may want to watch a football game the old way, wrapped in the car blanket in a brick stadium with a Thanksgiving blizzard blowing in his teeth. He must exist, but he is as rare as the Abominable Snowman. The Superdome and buildings like it are the shape, if not the psyche, of the future.
If you turned Erich (Chariots of the Gods?) von D�niken loose in the Dome he would find the spaceship metaphor inescapable because of the building's contours and the dimensions it presents to the mind. He might speculate that Starship Superdome was assembled on Venus and flown here on a fact-finding mission, perhaps landing at the new Dallas-Fort Worth airport to the west and sliding into place in downtown New Orleans. Maybe von D�niken could prove that it was not the ideas of a handful of men that built the Dome; and that the 22 lawsuits and endless financial and political battles in a pugnacious Louisiana are childish myths; and that on the hallowed day the Dome opens—April 1, 1975—the direction will be revealed as having been divine, not human.
Not only does the Superdome resemble a spaceship, the conception of it and the planning resemble a NASA project. The Superdome is built on a foundation of some 4,000 pilings and a framework of ideas, political coups, financial manipulation, design "packages," speculation and faith no less complex. Like NASA, the faceless power of organization seems to have molded the Dome. "Architects have tremendous egos," says Nathaniel (Buster) Curtis, director of the stadium's architectural-engineering team, "but no one man could have conceived and planned this building. We picked the best brains in the country and then we used computers to build it."
If there is no single unifying intelligence like a Leonardo behind the Dome, or even the arrogance of an I. M. Pei, whose John Hancock Building sent plate glass snowing down on Boston, the main personalities involved deserve to be commemorated lest they disappear like the faceless artisans of Gothic cathedrals.
Back in 1963 at
the LSU- Ole Miss game I went out for a hot dog and missed a touchdown. If I'd
had a portable TV, I could have seen it on instant replay. Then I thought, 'Why
not a giant TV for a stadium?'