Superdome windows to shine on Club Level
by Ariella Cohen Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS - And the architects said, let there be light.
Sunshine will make its debut this summer in the cavernous interior of the Louisiana Superdome when four windows are added to the famously monolithic exterior of the silver-skinned New Orleans stadium.
The windows — part of the third phase of a $210-million state renovation project begun in 2006 — will be the first openings cut into the dome’s aluminum exterior skin since it opened in 1975. The 18-by-24-foot sheets of reinforced glass will replace metal cladding on the exterior of the club level of the stadium.
Four VIP escalators are included in the renovation to the Superdome Club Level, which recently added chic black leather couches, stainless steel pillars and wood-grain finished bars.
The escalators and windows will cost $10.8 million in state funding.
Another $21 million will go to replacing the Dome’s remaining exterior aluminum panels, including $6 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to repair panels damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The investment is well worth it, said Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, which manages the Superdome.
“We are doing a much-needed modernization,” said Thornton. “In modern hotels and ballrooms, they have windows with views of the city. We want to compete with these venues.”
The Superdome is the city’s most modern recognizable structure because of its sleek futuristic appearance, architectural experts say. Designed by Curtis & Davis, it was a sign of the city’s prominence and promise at a time when most downtown city centers were losing people to the suburbs.
Katrina’s winds ripped away some 70 percent of the Dome’s roof, forcing a renovation that had been talked about for years. Adding windows was an idea that came up repeatedly in discussions, said Thornton, as the modernist traditions that influenced the Dome’s heralded architects, Nathanial “Buster” Curtis and Arthur Davis, fell out of fashion to be replaced by contemporary styles emphasizing natural light and connections between building interiors and the city streets surrounding them.
“This is huge,” said John Klingman, a professor of architecture at Tulane University. “The Superdome is kind of inhuman. Light will humanize it. I am fairly certain that Buster Curtis would approve. He was a smart architect and any smart architect would be in support of natural light.”
Curtis passed away in 1997. Davis, his partner, said this week he is pleased to hear visitors to the Dome will soon be able to see outside. While windows weren’t part of the original vision for an “all-season, multipurpose space,” they could work, said the retired architect.
“If they give a view of downtown, I would not be opposed,” said Davis, lead architect for the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library and the New Orleans Arena.
Built in 1999, the 18,000-seat arena has a band of windows running around its octagon-shaped façade.
Metallic louver sunshades will camouflage the Dome’s glass windows so people will be able to see in and out yet the structure will maintain its uninterrupted silver glare, said project architect Jon Seibert of Sizeler Architects, which along with Billes Architecture, Trahan Architects and the Minneapolis-based engineer Ellerbe Becket is carrying out the three-year renovation.
“You’ll have to look to see the windows there,” said Seibert. “It’s hard to add a hole and hide it, too, but that is what we are trying to do.”
Architects originally envisioned cladding the entire 273-feet high, 680-foot wide Dome in glass, said Richard Kravet of Billes Architecture.
“We loved the idea of punching open the skin of this building that for so long has been monolithic over the city,” said Kravet, whose firm led the minimalist, chrome-touched interior redesign of the Club Level lounges.
The costs of an all-glass Dome compounded by preservation concerns made a transparent skin impossible, but the 100-foot band of windows is a good compromise, said Kravet.
“We wanted to connect this icon of the city to its streets. The windows do that,” he said.
Davis doesn’t regret the decision to forgo windows in the Dome, the largest fixed domed structure in the world from its opening 1975 until 1992 when the 9-acre, 606-foot-wide Georgia Dome in Atlanta took its title. In 1999, the 20-acre Millennium Dome in London became the largest domed structure in the world.
“The introduction of windows at that time would have distracted somewhat from the effectiveness of the original multipurpose program,” said Davis. Yet he agrees with state planners that the time is right for a new skin for the middle-aged icon.
“It’s as effective today as it was (when we built it) ... (but) I’ve noticed the exterior could use the new aluminum.”•