Should the Houston Museum of Culture be located in the Houston Astrodome?
Built in 1964 (opened on April 9, 1965), the Astrodome was described as Houston's Eiffel Tower. It was actually an impressive development in the advance of civilizations, which have historically built ball courts, stadiums and coliseums. Like the Roman Stadium of Domitian (dating to 80 AD), the Roman Circus Maximus (dating to Sixth Century BC), and the Greek Stadium at Olympia (dating to 776 BC), the Houston Astrodome was a significant gathering place for athletic competitions and popular entertainment. It utilized technological advancements and achieved the expectations of Americans, like air-conditioned comfort, in the 1960s. In fact, Judge Roy Hofheinz said that the Roman Colosseum, having made its own efforts to control climate with large awnings (valeria), was the inspiration for Houston's own air-conditioned, domed stadium.
The Colosseum is Rome's most popular tourism destination, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is considered one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World". The Houston Astrodome is often referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
Decision on its Fate
A proposal announced by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett in August 2014 signaled (hopefully) the end of discussions about demolishing the Astrodome. The new path to preserve the Astrodome solves a major problem and opens up great possibilities for Houston.
The Astrodome was included on the National Register of Historic Places on January 15, 2014. If it is to be preserved, countless Houstonians can stop expending energy to save it and turn to guiding it into a better future.
Now it is possible to do something great for the entire Houston metropolitan and southeast Texas region.
Judge Ed Emmett presented the Astrodome - with 140,000 square feet of open surface area, 115 suites and 20,000 square feet of meeting space - as a future park for healthy and educational activities, along with entertainment and a complimentary location for other activities at the NRG Park.
The August 2014 general proposal described a large indoor park for nature, recreation, festivals and concerts, with educational exploration for area students in science and engineering, and possible meeting, exhibit and restaurant areas.
This is similar to the vision planned for the Houston Museum of Culture, with the exception of the expansive indoor space.
Given the size of the Astrodome, it makes sense that several museums could effectively operate in the space, possibly anchored by a major national museum.
Since ideas in the current proposal are not fully developed, Houston Museum of Culture would like to explore the possibility to be part of future developments in the Astrodome. The concept for the Houston Museum of Culture is described to provide the greatest educational resource for Houston, utilizing proven public interests, and providing tremendous visitor benefits.
Historic events have helped create some of the nation's most intriguing and impactful cultural resources, including the Field Museum (Chicago) and HemisFair Park (San Antonio). Since the Astrodome is no longer desired as a sports stadium, it has unlimited potential to become one of the nation's great museums and activity centers.
Field Museum (Chicago) - The Field Museum of Natural History was born from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which was a key to the city's rebound from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Its purpose was "the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge and the presentation and exhibition of artifacts illustrating art, archaeology, science and history." Today, known simply as the Field Museum, it contains "rich anthropological collections and cultural artifacts from around the globe" and produces numerous traveling exhibits.
American Museum of Natural History (New York City) - The American Museum of Natural History was the result of advocacy by a naturalist, Albert Bickmore. The museum found a home in Central Park. Commissioned by the legislature in 1869, the 1,600,000 square foot museum containing millions of human cultural artifacts is only able to display a small fraction of them at any time. The museum sponsors 120 field expeditions per year and supports the Southwest Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona (the original site of Houston Institute for Culture's Camp Dos Cabezas).
Fair Park (Dallas) - Originally established on 80 acres in 1886, the current Fair Park was constructed for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936. Containing nine museums and six performance facilities, the 277 acre recreational and educational complex is a National Historic Landmark and is designated a Great Place in America by the American Planning Association.
HemisFair Park (San Antonio) - The 92 acre site was developed for HemisFair '68, the 1968 World's Fair (or International Exposition), with the theme "the confluence of civilizations in the Americas." Today it is the site of the Institute of Texan Cultures, Mexican Cultural Institute, the Women's Pavilion and the Project Y Youth Pavilion. Building for the future, the park is undergoing renovations under HPARC (HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation) in order to increase activity and modernize visionary facilities like the Women's Pavilion.
The Houston Astrodome has presented national and international events, making it one of Houston's biggest attractions. To function successfully in the future, it will surely need to uphold its status as a major national attraction. In fact, if planned effectively, it is possible for it to be Houston's most visited cultural institution. Its achievement as a major U.S. destination will benefit all other Houston cultural assets.
Visitor numbers equal to or even exceeding the Houston Museum of Natural Science are possible. More than 2 million people visit the Field Museum annually. More than 5 million visit the American Museum of Natural History annually.
Natural science and history is clearly a popular attraction for the nation's biggest institutions. In broad terms, the largest attraction for international museums is Culture, covering the development of civilizations, diverse languages and religions, and the dynamic history of our ways of life that have culminated in the modern era in Houston, making Houston a city of the future. To imagine the public interest and the potential visitation to a museum of culture, we have surveyed visitor attendance at several national museums of culture, including the Smithsonian, which often achieves 30 million visitors in a year, and the British Museum, which approaches 6 million visitors annually.
Report on International Museum Visitors
Houston Museum of Culture
The Astrodome could benefit substantially from the planning of the Houston Museum of Culture. It is conceived to focus on civilizations, cultures and social sciences, which are highly underutilized as educational subjects and lifelong learning interests for the Houston public.
These areas are able to compliment, but not duplicate the topical material of Houston's existing museums, like the successful Houston Museum of Natural Science and Children's Museum. While it would be an important heritage site, it would not overlap significantly with the mission of the Heritage Society or other future heritage centers. And, as demonstrated, the subject matter is capable to attract visitors to Houston and increase support for most all cultural attractions in the area.
Plan and Progress
The first stage of the Houston Museum of Culture is planned to begin in the historic East End, opening in a building that is slated for construction. In the second stage, the museum is planned to expand to the diverse southwest region of Houston (while specializing its exhibits and programs in the East End), but the Astrodome is clearly a good possibility for its expansion. The NRG Park is in position to be a natural extension of the Museum District. New activity in the Astrodome has the potential to attract major visitors from the city and around the world. And it is well connected on an existing MetroRail line, with access to downtown Houston, the Museum District, Texas Medical Center, and other major districts.
Input is welcome (mark [at] houstonculture.org) and updates will be provided.
Vision for Houston | Grand Vision for the Houston Museum of Culture
Construction of the Houston Astrodome in 1964.
Houston Institute for Culture :: email@example.com