Saving the U.S. Capitol Dome
Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA, LEED AP, reflects on the AOC's effort to restore the U.S. Capitol Dome.
The U.S. Capitol Dome is without equal. It was designed, developed and forged during an era of incredible conflict in American history. The Capitol Dome was first conceived in the 1850s while great debates raged in Congress that would eventually lead to the Union tearing itself apart and entering into the American Civil War.
Even as the nation’s capital became an island surrounded by enemy forces bent on its destruction, the Capitol Dome rose above the Washington skyline, thanks to the persistence and dedication of those chartered with its creation.
Designed by the fourth Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter and engineered by Montgomery C. Meigs, the Dome stands today as a testament to great American achievement. Without Walter’s vision and Meigs’ revolutionary approach to logistics planning and an innate ability to overcome engineering challenges, the Dome as we know it today may never have been built.
As the torchbearer to these individuals, and the person responsible for the preservation of the U.S. Capitol Dome, it is now my duty to ensure this American icon stands for generations to come.
Following extensive study for the past decade by top experts in their field, we have found the Capitol Dome is in urgent need of repair. While the Dome may look beautiful from the ground, when you get up close, it is obvious that its cast iron is in a significant state of disrepair. The cast iron is original to the Dome’s construction in the late 1850s and early 1860s – making it more than 150 years old. The advanced age of the cast iron coupled with the corrosive effects of weather have created more than 1,000 cracks and other deficiencies. If not addressed soon, these problems will create safety concerns and could cause irreparable harm to the priceless art found within the Dome, including the famed Apotheosis of Washington.
This November we will begin work on restoring the exterior of the Capitol Dome for the first time in more than 60 years. While these are difficult economic times, this work is important and has been planned for more than 10 years. We proactively took multiple steps to ensure the procurement process was fair and competitive to confirm the best value for taxpayers. Additionally, we will apply multiple project management best practices, thereby reducing risk and delivering the project on-time and on-budget.
The work will necessitate scaffolding from the top of the Dome to the base, as each crack in the cast iron must undergo a technique called “lock and stitch.” This is time-consuming work that must be done by hand. For the next two years, the Capitol Dome may not look great aesthetically – but please know that when the scaffold is removed, the Dome will be even more splendid than before, and we can all be proud of the work that was performed to ensure that it will stand for generations to come.
As Architect of the Capitol, and as an American citizen, I believe the Capitol Dome serves as a symbol of our democracy, and is a treasure and an inspiration for us all. I hope you will join with me in celebrating this work as we restore the U.S. Capitol Dome.
For more information on the Dome Restoration Project please visit www.aoc.gov/dome.