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Solution of the Month

Community Fiberglass: A public shade structure is made from the remnants of the Hoosier Dome.

June 2011

By David Sokol

Shortly after the collapse of the Metrodome roof in December, Indianapolis officials told their Minneapolis counterparts that they could take roofing material from the old Hoosier Dome to complete a patch job. The Hoosier Dome, more recently dubbed the RCA Dome, had been demolished in late 2008 to make way for an expanded convention center.

Hoosier Dome
Photo courtesy People for Urban Progress
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Yet the city wouldn’t have had any Teflon-coated fiberglass to loan, however theoretically, were it not for People for Urban Progress (PUP). The local nonprofit worked directly with Sabre Demolition to salvage the Hoosier roof, and successfully campaigned the Indianapolis Parks Department to transport and store eight acres of that surface. Another five acres was donated to the group Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, which roofed a high school with the material. In total, 90 percent of the Hoosier Dome’s dome, weighing 225 tons, was saved.

PUP has used part of its share of the stadium’s fiberglass shell to convert into wallets and handbags for fundraising for a larger goal: With the bulk of the former roof, it is working with the year-old local architecture and urban design studio w/purpose to create recycled pavilions and shade structures throughout Indianapolis.

PUP and w/purpose began exploring this outcome last year, as part of Park(ing) Day. For the event, dedicated to public green space and organized by the Indianapolis chapter of Architecture for Humanity, PUP transformed eight rented parking spaces into an urban garden. A w/purpose-designed shade structure stood at its center.

w/purpose founder Wil Marquez explains that the 10-foot-diameter prototype was fabricated entirely from scrap steel, with two chevron-like frames projecting from the tubular steel staff. Each chevron sports two steel arcs supported by a cross brace, with a sheath of the former Hoosier Dome laced to each pair. Imagining the structure shading benches or bus stops, Marquez also made sure to include several points where the sun shields can be adjusted in the x, y, and z axes according to time of day or year.

The Indianapolis mayor’s office also participated in Park(ing) Day, using regular market umbrellas in its installation. A strong wind turned most of them inside-out. “As a piece of urban infrastructure, those umbrellas are useful for some things and they fail in other respects,” Marquez says of the non-pivoting objects. “This project was more versatile and interactive.”

This spring the prototype was given a permanent home in a new pocket park in the Reagan Park neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis. Whereas welders added a plate to the shade structure on Park(ing) Day, now it is mounted to a small footing that extends beneath the frost line and surrounded in repurposed brick pavers. In addition, the armature is spray-painted yellow.

It is part of a larger experiment by the community development corporation Community Outreach Center, which conceived and created the park. PUP is planning to provide additional structures through partnerships with similar CDCs. And so the prototype is intended as a stimulus to the urban fabric as much as a notable example of recycling.

Marquez is continuing to experiment with the Hoosier Dome fiberglass in both regards. “The next step is to use the minimal amount of steel for the greatest area of fabric,” he says of the prototype’s continuing evolution. He adds that the old roofing lends itself to public seating or projection surfaces. Meanwhile, PUP and w/purpose are realizing the next generation of this soft infrastructure: In February the Indianapolis neighborhood of Concord asked the design-activist team to imagine a 20-by-20-foot iteration of the pavilion that will provide both shade and organization to a community garden. For a mere $15,000 demolition cost, PUP and w/purpose reclaimed the Hoosier Dome and prioritized reuse for the entire city.


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