What happens when there’s no more there there?

Since the Metrodome was leveled, we’re seeing new vistas. Walking southeast on 5th Street, it’s startling to see the Cedar-Riverside towers standing lonely on the horizon, even though you knew they were there.

Shooting down 4th Street toward the freeway offers a different surprise. Without the backdrop of the dome, the brick arches at the light-rail station appear suddenly huge, nothing like the human-scaled homage to the Stone Arch Bridge that we’ve glanced at for years.

The Dome never lorded over the skyline, but had a more massive and hulking presence, like a concrete Jabba the Hutt. Still, the weird thing is that now that the Dome is gone, it’s hard to tell where it was.

Paul Jensen, who’s worked at Midwest Mountaineering on the West Bank for six years, said he’d notice the Dome when it was illuminated for a night event, “which made it cool,” he said. “It stood out.” But despite driving past the Dome every day — or maybe because he drove past it every day — he’d stopped seeing it. “My eyes are always drawn to the taller buildings of the skyline.

“I kind of wish I would have taken some photos because now, I couldn’t tell you it was there.”

It’s true. Except for a yellow crane reaching from the depths, the site, from a distance, is invisible.

Driving around it is a different story as you glimpse a chasm of gravel and distorted concrete through gaps in the security fence. Yet already, the sensation is a little like coming across a teardown in your neighborhood and feeling perplexed that you can’t picture just which house was there.

The shock of the new view may be stronger among those who didn’t see what some called “the Hump” day in and day out. When James Harley Barton recently drove down from Duluth, “it was strange to drive by and see the Dome totally gone.”

Nor will a new stadium necessarily erase old memories, according to Kris Grangaard of Falcon Heights, who said she still expects to see the old Metropolitan Stadium when she drives to the Mall of America. “We can understand and approve progress, but it’s OK to be nostalgic, too!”

Feeling like an ant

A sudden change in a familiar vista can be jarring. For decades, the Metrodome had provided a visual boundary of sorts. Now this view is emptier, and longer, which can have the effect of making us feel smaller. Consider: Who feels omnipotent when they first glimpse the Grand Canyon?

Andrew Leicester thinks a lot about such things. He’s the public artist who designed the arcade of seven brick arches on the Metrodome plaza. Humans, he said, feel most at ease when their surroundings are in proportion to themselves.

When the Metrodome was built, “that space was so gigantic, the Dome was so huge, that I felt that one of the arches’ functions was to be a kind of mediator between the scale of the stadium and human scale,” he said. “They humanize the vast area.”

Now that the arches themselves have lost the context of the Dome, they loom over the plaza. That will be remedied over the course of construction, although Leicester allowed as how he’s watched the plans rather anxiously, given that some drawings have appeared without the arches.

“One of the concerns is that we’ll be left with this gigantic open space again, which can be very overwhelming,” he said.

Been good to know you

Timing may be a factor in how people are reacting to the Metrodome’s absence on the skyline. Not only had it been deemed functionally obsolete, but its glory days were long gone.

Can you imagine it being torn down in the wake of the Minnesota Twins’ World Series victory in 1987, or even 1991, when its ability to make cheers reverberate like thunderclaps made it a mythical 10th man on the field? Back then, we loved the goofy thing. Even the Vikings’ woes were more “so close” than “not again.”

Now when we expect to see the famously buxom roof, only to remember that it’s gone, it’s a little like that millisecond of wanting to call your aunt before remembering that she died last year.

Of course, any of these new vistas are fleeting. Jensen said he’ll likely pay more attention to the view as the new stadium takes shape — work that’s already underway.

Even as a crane toppled the last section of seating earlier this month, footings for the new stadium were being sunk. It won’t be all that long before a new structure rises, filling that empty piece of horizon.

Yet even that vista will be different when the Star Tribune building — which, like an overzealous fan, has obstructed the view of the Metrodome from much of downtown — is leveled next year.

It may be the first time that the plea “Down in front!” will be heeded.