SAN ANTONIO – The Alamodome is synonymous with the San Antonio skyline, and as the building celebrates 30 years this May, the story behind its planning and design is an architectural feat.
“There was a great deal of competition to get the project. Several teams that included ourselves and national consultants were part of the project. And the competition went on for a couple of months, and we had to present to city council several times,” said Greg Houston, partner at Marmon Mok Architecture.
The San Antonio-based firm designed the plans for the Alamodome more than 30 years ago when the project was called the San Antonio Multipurpose Stadium Facility.
“There was a lot of discussion about where to put the Alamodome. The site was strategic in that it was downtown near the convention facilities. But it was also in a location between a railroad track and a US highway, which meant it was a relatively tight site when compared to other stadiums, particularly domed stadiums that were happening around the country,” said Houston. “There was a bit of a challenge with respect to how to fit a full 65,000-seat dome stadium on the property.”
Houston was a junior architect working on the project at the time and remembers the firm had to get creative with the space.
“Instead of going out length and width, we went vertically. We used a structural system that involves some masts on the building to help support the roof and transfer the load very efficiently on the site,” said Houston. “The cable trusses connected to the mast at the four corners of the building. The mast had to be calculated in terms of how tall it is, how far into the ground does it go.”
Houston said the cable-supported truss system that transferred into the primary mass system had not been done in the United States before. The firm not only had to think outside the box with the design but go outside the country.
“It was a combination of concrete technology and steel technology. The major trusses in the building were not just out of steel. They were out of steel cable and were fabricated in Europe and had to be shipped over to the United States because of the specialized nature of those cables,” said Houston. “What was done with the building, the structural system, we were published in many of the national magazines, including Engineering News-Record and Architectural Record, because of the uniqueness of the facility and particularly the structure.”
The design and planning for the Alamodome took under two years, and 30 years later, Marmon Mok is still behind all of the building’s renovations. At the time, it was the biggest project the firm had.
“Professionally, it meant a lot. As a citizen of San Antonio and growing up here, there was a lot of excitement generated because people had ideas about what the Alamodome was going to bring,” said Houston. “It was really a lot more than just football. It was a multipurpose public assembly building that would house many events, and I think that’s been true over the years.”
And while the Alamodome has faced some criticism over time for its overall look, Houston said that, like any proud parent, the firm is thrilled about what the Alamodome has done for the city and its future. To date, the Alamodome has successfully hosted various high-profile sporting events and concerts and will continue to do so.
“People will react the way they’re going to react, but it’s been a jewel for San Antonio, and it’s been one of the major economic drivers in our community,” said Houston. “This is a part of the city’s fabric, and it’s meaningful for the city to be noticed as a major city in the United States.”