One of the big surprises of the 2007 San Diego wildfires was the instant rise to international fame of Qualcomm Stadium as shelter, haven, and general beacon of humanity for tens of thousands of refugees. Photojournalists the world over descended on San Diego, and their collective photographer’s eye discovered a little-known fact: the Stadium is in fact a stunning and historically significant piece of mid-century modern architecture.

Tickled by the stadium’s proto-Bilbao-esque forms, the photojournalists proceeded to invent a new genre of architectural disaster photography, equal parts Shulman and Salgado. The resulting images carry the story, and they look great.

The irony in this sequence of events is that ever since the city built the new Petco Park downtown, Qualcomm Stadium has been framed as a civic white elephant in need of extensive and architecturally fatal multi-use redevelopment.

But now that the stadium has received (both in name and in image) an inestimable amount of solid-gold international media exposure, any future efforts to bury the existing stadium beneath high-density housing and parking garages could easily be reframed as the civic equivalent of tearing down the Statue of Liberty. It would make for interesting media coverage.

Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Robyn Beck (Agence France-Presse); Chris Park (Associated Press Photo); Stan Liu (Reuters); AP Photo.