Never trust a building over 30

After a recent snowstorm in Minnesota, the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis collapsed. Snow? In Minnesota? In the winter? Who could have seen that coming, aside from Nostradamus?

“But it was a really big snow,” one observer said, glossing over the fact that the main purpose of a roof is to keep out, among other things, a lot of snow. It’s those really heavy snows where roofs especially come in handy. And, as went surprisingly unreported, no other roofs collapsed. Then there was this bit of wisdom from another commentator: “It’s 30 years old, it should be replaced.” So that explains the roof collapse; it wasn’t designed to keep the snow out, it was designed to make imploding the whole thing easier. Then we can build a newer, more expensive one in a better neighborhood that will last for, if we’re lucky, 15 years. This is a process that’s been taking place on a yearly basis in cities with major league, or even really good Little League, ball teams.

It’s 30 years old? The Colosseum in Rome is 1,900 years old. Sure, it’s showing its age and it doesn’t snow often in Rome, but they still hold performances in it; not big crowd pleasers like thumbs-up, thumbs-down gladiatorial bloodbaths, but boring, non-lethal theater productions and concerts. You’d think the WWE would rent the place now and then, just for the publicity value. Still, if they hadn’t stripped away all its marble to build St. Peter’s 500 years ago, the Colosseum might not look as dilapidated as it does. The dome of the Pantheon still stands, but then it is only 1,800 years old. How is it that the Romans could build things without bulldozers, without computer-aided design, without steel or steam shovels, and we can’t? Actually we can, we simply choose not to.

There’s something about modern buildings, the ones built in the last 30 years or so – they might as well have a sign on them that says, “Future teardown” on them, or “Slum of the future.” Look at an old picture of your downtown and see how many perfectly functional, beautiful, old red-brick buildings are no longer there, buildings of charm and distinction that were torn down to make room for parking lots and glass boxes. Let me know if you’ve ever heard anyone say, “Hey, let’s go downtown and gaze at the new parking garage.”

Thirty years old? Let’s tear it down and build a new one. And they say we don’t make anything in this country anymore. Bull hockey. We still make stadiums. And prisons. I can always tell, when driving down the interstate at 65 miles per hour, that I’m passing a high school because I can see the brand-new stadium next to it, sometimes with the lights blazing. The school may be falling apart, grades may be tanking, the roof may be leaking, but God forbid that Junior should don his cleats in an old stadium.

Thirty years old? It’s like “Logan’s Run” came true, but just for buildings. Is that what they say when they build stuff, now? “It’s so good, you won’t have to build another one for 30 years.” There’s a sales pitch for you – kind of like selling a car with a six-month/600 mile, whichever-comes-first warranty. Hard to believe people wouldn’t line up for that. And what is the wear and tear on a stadium? People come and sit in it for a few hours 150 times a year. After three decades, the only things that require replacement should be the nacho machines and the seat cushions. Oh yeah, they don’t have seat cushions. They wouldn’t last 30 years.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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