Apr, 2012

It’s raining and cloudy this morning in University Place, WA. I don’t think we’ll be able to see Mt. Rainier today. Maybe tomorrow.

Mt Rainier on a clear day. We don't have too many of those this time of year.

This day takes me to my childhood home, Tacoma, WA, where I was born and raised. Tacoma is to University Place, what Capital City is to Springfield. (You know what I’m talking about if you watch The Simpsons.) It’s also raining in Tacoma this morning. While we can’t see Mt. Rainier today, we can see the Tacoma Dome, which kind of looks like a mountain.

One of the big news stories in Tacoma this week is that an anonymous donor has donated money to get the Tacoma Dome roof cleaned. The project is well underway.

Note that the left side of the dome isn't cleaned yet, but the right side is nice and clean. Should look great when they're done. Note how the trees in the forground make the dome look like a snow-capped peak, much like Mt. Rainier.

The Tacoma Dome (The Dome) is the major event arena in Tacoma and hosts everything from concerts to graduation ceremonies to hockey to monster trucks. It even hosts the state high school football championships. If you’ve lived in the South Puget Sound region for at least a few years, you probably have attended some kind of event at The Dome.

A closer look at the workers cleaning the dome. Does not look like fun!

I was very, very young when The Dome was built in 1983. (No, really, I was verrrrry, verrrry young in 1983.)There are many unique aspects in its construction, most notably the dome structure itself, which is made of wood. Obviously, wood is the key resource used in almost all buildings in the Pacific Northwest, which is teeming with trees, including Douglas fir, alder, and Sitka Spruce among other species. The timber industry dominated the Puget Sound region for generations, so it’s only appropriate that one of the most iconic structures in Tacoma be made primarily of wood. The dome is one of the largest wooden dome structures in the world. According to The Dome’s website, the dome structure is made of 1.6 million board feet of wood and weighs 1,444,000 pounds.

Inside the dome. Some of the wooden beams and cross-members that support the dome structure.

Wider view of the dome interior. The architects and engineers did a great job of creating an interesting pattern with the beams which also ensures structural integrity.

It goes without saying that a structure that size is going to be the dominant structure of most any place it is built and Tacoma is no exception. It is without question the iconic structure in Tacoma. Seattle has the Space Needle; Tacoma has The Dome.

I would have to think that one of the biggest challenges for an architect designing a dominant structure is to make it aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully, the architect captured the essence of the Pacific Northwest. The most obvious feature of The Dome that captures what we love about the Great Northwest is the paint scheme, which emulates the snow-capped peaks of the Cascade Mountains. The design cleverly uses colored triangles at the base of the dome, starting with a pale blue. The triangle colors get lighter as they near the top of the dome. The triangles fade into snow white at the top like a mountain peak.

Another more subtle feature of The Dome is how it fits into the terrain. Here’s something you need to know about Tacoma: If you are walking anywhere in the city, you are either walking up or down an incline. There are few level surfaces in the city. The terrain here is very hilly, steep in some areas, not so steep in others, but very rarely is the walking surface completely flat. No matter where you turn your head when in Tacoma, you will see a hill or incline.

Consequently, many structures in this area are built into some kind of hill. (My unscientific opinion is that there are more daylight basements per capita in this region than in any part of the country, except maybe San Francisco.) The Dome is no exception. Rather than try to bulldoze the earth to a completely flat surface, the architects wisely designed it so that it gently blends into the slope of the hill.

Tacoma Dome on a rainy April day. Note how the Dome building blends into the terrain. If you look close to left towards the top of the dome, you can see workers cleaning the surface.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the legions of architects who had the good sense to blend the buildings into the good earth of my hometown. I also want to thank that anonymous donor who probably appreciates the dome more than most of us. I also want to give a big thanks to those wonderful folks who are scrubbing the roof in miserable weather. I can’t wait to see The Dome when their work is done.