The EXPLORADOME: The Science Center's Biggest Experiment

Today is the day the EXPLORADOME comes down! In some ways, we are sad to see this oddball structure go. You really can’t miss this bubble-wrap-like, white dome of a building as you’re driving down Highway 40. The EXPLORADOME has served as a landmark for drivers for quite some time now. But, the Science Center no longer has a need for the EXPLORADOME (thanks to the permanent addition of Boeing Hall); taking down this iconic temporary building allows us to do new and entirely different things with the space.

Before I dazzle you with our plans for the new space, I wanted to give the EXPLORADOME a proper sendoff.

How it all began

After the Main Building opened in 1991, it quickly became clear that the Science Center needed to find additional space to host large traveling exhibitions and to meet the service demands of schools. Since adding this space would be too soon and too costly following the large fundraising campaign used to fund the construction of the Main Building, Science Center leaders decided to take a more conservative approach.

It was decided that a temporary structure would be erected next to the Main Building as a low-cost means of verifying the need and application of additional space. What started as an “experiment” ended up lasting twice as long as intended. Constructed in 1997, the EXPLORADOME was anticipated to be of service to the Science Center for 6 to 8 years. With a little TLC over the years, the inflatable dome structure has held up for 16 years.

A look at the domed building

EXPLORADOME Saint Louis Science Center aerial shotThe EXPLORADOME now stands (or once stood depending on when you are reading this) on the former and final location of the Merchant’s Exchange. The three-story, 1950s office building was leveled, but the basement, staircase and an elevator were retained. A 120-by-240 foot rectangular concrete pad was then poured around the south of the basement, creating the base on which the giant vinyl “envelope” was attached.

Once attached, air blower units inflated the vinyl of the dome to an immense arched space, up to 40 feet high, with a perimeter base plate and wrapping steel cables literally holding the air-supported dome down. In a little over 5-months-time, the EXPLORADOME had been born giving the Science Center nearly 29,000 square feet of exhibit, program and office space for an extremely inexpensive building cost.

Proving its worth

Over the years, the EXPLORADOME more than proved its worth. The building played host to 33 traveling exhibitions, which drew approximately 2.4 million visitors through the building. In addition to the foot traffic from traveling exhibitions, the EXPLORADOME was a vital gathering space for school groups and camps, private corporate events, private parties and even served as home base for many Science Center staffers.

Perhaps the most important role the EXPLORADOME played over the years was that of shepherd for Boeing Hall. As suspected, the Science Center needed the exhibition space and, time and time again, the EXPLORADOME proved that for us. With the addition of Boeing Hall, we now have a state-of-the-art special exhibition and events space that can serve the Science Center in a permanent capacity.

So, today, we prepare ourselves for our beloved EXPLORADOME to gently and gracefully bow out so that we can clear the area for new and exciting experiences for our visitors.

Starting with a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. (including a science lesson for some of our summer campers), the EXPLORADOME will slowly deflate over the course of a couple hours. It will then be quietly disassembled, with much of the material being reused, repurposed and recycled.

Ok, enough of the sad stuff. The EXPLORADOME is an incredibly large structure with a volume of approximately 652,000 cubic feet. We wanted to put this into perspective for fellow EXPLORADOME lovers, so we decided it should live on forever in the form of an infographic. See how the EXPLORADOME measures up to other inflatable objects below:

EXPLORADOME volume infographic Saint Louis Science Center

UPDATE: See various views of the EXPLORADOME deflation here.

We want you to help us remember this day! What are you first memories of the EXPLORADOME? Which memories are your favorites? How would you describe this interesting and unusual temporary structure? Share with us in the “Comments” section below!

Written by Staci, Communications, with original information from “The Science Center plans to bid farewell to the EXPLORADOME,” published in the Spring 2013 issue of newScience, a Saint Louis Science Center publication for Members

Comments
I remember Kicking a field goal in the SPORTSLAB on what was an awkward double not-really-a-date date. That had to be the first exhibit you had there. I think I could probably find the official SportsLab long sleeve t-shirt packed away in my basement somewhere...
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