The U.S. Capitol Building Rotunda is among the most recognizable and hallowed spaces within all of America's public buildings. The Rotunda is used for important ceremonial events, including the lying in state of eminent citizens such as President John F. Kennedy and Rosa Parks, the awarding of Congressional Gold Medals and the dedication of works of art.
"The Rotunda is a beautiful space; however, age and leaks in the Dome above have caused a lot of problems," said Architect of the Capitol (AOC) Project Executive Augustine Angba. "The Rotunda belongs to all Americans and we should do everything we can to restore and preserve it."
The U.S. Capitol Rotunda is 96 feet in diameter and 180 feet in height and is located in the center of the U.S. Capitol on the second floor. As it appears today, the U.S. Capitol Rotunda is the result of two different building campaigns, one under Charles Bulfinch and another under Thomas U. Walter. Dr. William Thornton, credited as the first Architect of the Capitol, won the competition for the design of the U.S. Capitol in 1793 that included a central rotunda.
Due to construction delays to the Capitol created by shortages of funding and material, and the British burning the Capitol in 1814, the Capitol Rotunda construction did not begin until 1818. The Rotunda was completed in 1824, under the direction of Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch. Bulfinch's design for the Rotunda was intended to recall the Pantheon, the ancient Roman temple.
In the fall of 1856, Bulfinch's wooden dome atop the Capitol was removed, and a temporary roof was installed over the Rotunda to protect it during the construction of a new cast-iron Dome designed by Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter. In 1866, artist Constantino Brumidi completed the Apotheosis of Washington in the eye of the Rotunda canopy.
Over time, weather and age have led to extensive damage to the cast-iron Dome. Water has leaked through more than 1,000 cracks, damaging paint, cast iron, stone and decorative elements both in the exterior of the Dome and in the Rotunda. In late 2014, H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2015, was enacted and included funding for the restoration of the U.S. Capitol Building Rotunda.
The Rotunda restoration starts during this summer and will include work to remove hazardous materials (such as lead paint), restore ironwork, upgrade electrical and mechanical systems, install new lighting and repaint it to historically appropriate colors.
AOC Project Construction Manager Shane Gallagher said, "The restoration will involve installing scaffolding throughout the inside of the Rotunda. The Rotunda will need to close during the peak of this activity, but will reopen for visitors after this point."
In mid-July 2015 floor and art protection will be installed. Following that, the Rotunda will close while a scaffolding system is installed. The closure will begin Saturday, July 25, 2015, and continue through Labor Day. The Capitol Visitor Center will provide special programming while the Rotunda is closed.
Most work will be conducted at night and on weekends to ensure minimal disruption to congressional business. The entire scaffolding system, including art protection, is expected to remain in the Rotunda through late summer 2016 with work being completed before the Presidential Inauguration in 2017.
The restoration of the Rotunda will ensure this hallowed space will be enjoyed by generations of visitors, staff and members of Congress for years to come.
This story is also published in the Spring 2015 issue of AOC's Foundations & Perspectives.