Tearing into the Metrodome: Are Other Air-Pressurized Stadiu...



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Tearing into the Metrodome: Are Other Air-Pressurized Stadiums Unsafe and Outmoded?
Conventional air-pressurized stadiums such as the Metrodome, whose inflatable roof collapsed under the weight of snow in December, are rare in the U.S.--and may be accidents waiting to happen
By Laurie Wiegler | January 20, 2011 | 5

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With a roof made of fabric similar to that used in trampolines, it's not hard to envision why 43 centimeters of snow tore through Minneapolis's Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome last month. What is perhaps harder to imagine is why anyone would consider keeping in place an inflatable domed stadium that most engineers agree is antiquated. Forensic investigators and engineers are still studying the December 12 accident, although it is unclear whether any federal agencies have been summoned to investigate.
DEFLATED EXPECTATIONS: The top of the Metrodome in Minneapolis after the December 11-12 snowstorm. Image: Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission

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Under pressure, few inflatable stadiums Most stadiums either have a truss-supported roof or lack one altogether. Inflatable roofs are usually dome-shaped, because that provides the optimum amount of volume for the pressurized air to maintain shape. The roof fabric is pliable, usually made of tensile fiberglass or polyester, hemispherical, and attached at the foundation with heavy weights. Inflation fans, located just under the roof, keep the dome inflated and blow into a common duct that circumnavigates the building. The air is then funneled into the interior arena from

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1/21/11 12:30 PM

Tearing into the Metrodome: Are Other Air-Pressurized Stadiu...


that duct. Inflatable dome-roofed structures remain stable as long as the stadium's © 2011 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. About Scientific American Advertise internal air pressure equals or exceeds outside forces such as those exerted by wind, All Rights Reserved. Special Ad Sections snow or even earthquakes. All such systems rely on two types of exit doors on the Site Map Customer Service Products & Services ground level and a revolving door that can be used to help moderate pressure.
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Pete Sala, managing director of the 2.7-hectare Carrier Dome at Syracuse University Press Room Science Jobs in New York State, says theirs is one of only three permanent, inflatable football stadiums in the country—the third is the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. And the Metrodome is currently the only active air-pressurized stadium in the National Football League. The former residents of the Silverdome, the Detroit Lions, have played at Ford Field since that facility opened in 2002. The Silverdome is now used for music and various sports events. The University of Northern Iowa (U.N.I.) in Cedar Falls replaced its air-pressurized system in 1994 after its roof collapsed numerous times during snowstorms. The pressurized RCA Dome (formerly called the Hoosier Dome and home to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts), no longer exists either. Another air dome, Vancouver's BC Place, where the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics were held, is being replaced with a retractable fabric roof. Sala says the stadium was built about the same time as the Carrier, which opened in September 1980. U.N.I. also got rid of the air-supported part of the roof—and [although it] still has a fabric center, it is not held up with air anymore," Sala says. "U.N.I. Dome was part of our generation—it's part hybrid now," he notes. But the Carrier Dome is here to stay. It's always been properly inspected and maintained, Sala says, pointing out that Syracuse gets more snow than Minneapolis. Further, the Carrier roof has held up even with as much as 1.2 meters of snow falling in a day and half, and the two meters that have already dropped on the area this winter. "Our typical routine when snow is predicted is we go through a series of checks and balances and protocol…to keep snow off the roof," he says. What worked in 1970 The technology behind air-pressurized domes was popularized by the late architect and engineer David Geiger, who designed the U.S. Pavilion for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan; but inflatable domes predate Geiger. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows images for a filing in April of 1958 by Woldemar A. Bary for an inflatable structure.

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1. dbtinc 04:18 PM 1/20/11

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View Oldest to Newest It's an obvious engineering problem now and should have

been recognized as one then.
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2. Steven Brown

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1/21/11 12:30 PM

Tearing into the Metrodome: Are Other Air-Pressurized Stadiu...


05:07 PM 1/20/11

A tall inverted cone configuration of the roof would have prevented snow accumulation. On the horizon, it would resemble a giant tepee.
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3. lamorpa 05:23 PM 1/20/11

That circumnavigating duct has to be the difficult part, what with all the moving around and such. Also, thanks for telling about the 'inflation fans' 'located just under the roof' That could have been a difficult one to conceive of without the wordy description. Glad to know the air is 'then funneled' into the 'interior' (of the?) arena, and the the interior pressure has to be able to withstand the forces of an earthquake (who knew?) I'm also hoping a future article details 'All such systems'' reliance on two (undescribed) 'types of exit doors' ('on the ground level'!) and a revolving door (one?) that 'can be used to help' 'moderate' (maintain?) pressure.
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4. lauriewiegler 05:34 PM 1/20/11

Ironically, exit doors were a huge part of the discussion. Thanks for the comment.
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5. lamorpa in reply to lauriewiegler 09:05 PM 1/20/11

Just poking fun a little too hard after a long week. Sorry. My bad. Good article.
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