At the beginning of 2020, as the country started to experience the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, people began to stay at home more often to help stop the spread of the virus. While people made their offices at kitchen tables or in their backyards, many started to see their home as a project, or really, as a series of projects, such as remodeling the kitchen, installing new carpet, painting, adding a deck, etc. Their goal was to take the time to make where they live perfect. They wanted to enjoy their home to the fullest and, when the pandemic finally ended, to invite their loved ones to visit and observe all the work done to beautify their space, which had served as their one safe place.
While most people have one structure to take care of, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is hard at work on multiple projects to care for the buildings across Capitol Hill. With the U.S. Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, Library of Congress and Supreme Court buildings, garages, and gardens, the AOC will never check off all of the items on its to-do list; taking care of the Capitol campus is an unending process. Most of the projects take years to complete and include studies, designs and finally construction and completion. Checking off one item on the AOC's to-do list is usually reward enough for all the people involved with these projects… and then it is on to the next one.
There is also a little difference between completing a task at home and working on a building like the U.S. Capitol. Tove Anderson, an architect by trade, is the Project Manager of the U.S. Capitol Stone and Metal Preservation Project. This is a phased project, meaning it is broken up into sections — think of painting the different sides of a house in four parts and each part is a phase in the project. In this case, the task at hand is cleaning, repairing and restoring the original stone of the U.S. Capitol.
The AOC recently completed Phase 2 of the project, which encompassed the south, or House, side of the building. Time and weather have taken their toll on the U.S. Capitol's stone. One focus of Phase 2 was the pediment, the triangular upper portion, which features multiple marble sculptures. While hard to see from the ground, these sculptures add to the true beauty of the U.S. Capitol. The workers on the pediment had to follow strict guidance and carefully mind their surroundings. They were required to wear hard hats with chin straps and no loose clothing or dangling tools to avoid further damaging the marble sculptures with an unintended bump or graze.
To properly preserve this portion of the building, a sculpture assessment was performed to determine the requirements and then a detailed plan was laid out and conducted, starting with removing an old bird deterrent system. Workers then performed several types of cleaning to remove surface soil and copper staining before they began the conservation work on the figures, which included repairing cracks and replacing or rebuilding deteriorated stone to restore the figures, such as the faces.
No project is smooth sailing all the way, especially with buildings as old as these. A specific hurdle for the pediment work involved seasonal temperature changes. For example, in the winter, the temperature and humidity were too low for the chemicals used to treat the stone to work properly — so the team isolated the work area and introduced heat and a mister system to increase humidity. This design created an ideal environment for successful restoration work.
Completing Phase 2 on time, even through a pandemic, which limited the number of people on-site, was a major success. "The pride and professionalism of all of the workers and the incredible quality of work is something I am most proud of on this project," said Anderson. Phase 3 of the project was recently awarded and work on the West Front (the center portion of the U.S. Capitol that faces the Washington Monument) will begin this year. After the fourth and final phase of the project (the East Front) is complete, Anderson will move on to the next project on the AOC's list.
Down the street from the U.S. Capitol, Margi Bergamini, a general engineer, serves as the Project Manager for the Senate Underground Garage and Landscape Restoration Project. Bergamini oversees the restoration and waterproofing of the garage and pedestrian tunnel, and more visibly, the Senate Park Plaza, fountain and landscaping located above the garage.
Historic preservation is a critical part of almost every AOC project and the team's efforts on this have been successful in preserving the original granite, light standards and stone benches. Additionally, beautiful new landscaping was planted, honoring the original design while occasionally using species more suited to the current environment and climate. For example, some of the heritage red oaks near the end of their life spans were replaced with saplings to accommodate the construction, and more importantly, to maintain the safety of the park.
A project team that would normally share sketches, brainstorm and problem solve in person, relocated its collaboration into the remote world of phone calls, emails and sometimes video chats. "I am proud of the perseverance as we kept pressing forward through obstacles like this," states Bergamini. "The team is pleased that we maintained and restored Senate Park and brought it back to its original 1932 splendor."
As summer arrives, the public can enjoy a newly restored area that brings more beauty to the Capitol campus.
Rayburn Garage Interior Rehabilitation, and Center Courtyard and West Plaza Waterproofing Restoration
Some house projects are less glamorous than others, but they are still vital and necessary to your home. Alex Santos, a mechanical engineer, spent the last several years working on garages (in addition to other types of projects) in the House Office Buildings, and currently manages the Rayburn Garage Interior Rehabilitation — another phased project.
"The project includes heavy demolition and renovation activities while maintaining building operations without limiting Congress and their staff to conduct the nation's business," Santos says. "I am proud to be a part of a diverse team of disciplines, each dedicated to ensuring the success of the project through rigorous and effective communication and coordination protocols."
Concurrently, he's also managing the upcoming Center Courtyard and West Plaza Waterproofing Restoration, which will eliminate water leaks affecting the interior of the Rayburn House Office Building and its garage. Once it is finished, people will see the same beautiful plaza they see now, but the completed project will restrict water from seeping into the Rayburn Building and its rehabilitated garage.
When it comes to a mega house project, where you renovate all the old rooms, look no further than the Cannon Renewal Project for a perfect comparison (although not many people live in a 100-year-old building). Every Member's suite, hearing room, elevator, bathroom and more in this building will be completely overhauled.
The Cannon Renewal team, managed by Donna Klee, a Capital Projects Administrator, recently moved in all the Members and their staff into the Phase 2 portion of the building, which is located on the Independence Avenue side of the building. The project team did not take a breath before starting Phase 3, which is on the First Street, SE side of the building. This phase will be almost the same work as the previous phases and will include construction of a completely new fifth floor.
"A multi-phased project, in an occupied building like the Cannon is an amazing endeavor and takes a dedicated team to make it work. As each phase is completed, we garner more lessons learned and the team grows stronger in our mission," said Klee.
The AOC may have hundreds of skilled workers maintaining dozens of buildings, but it shares a sentiment with each family across this country that has spent a year in lockdown working on home improvement projects: We all look forward to having people visit again to enjoy the beautiful work we've done.
Thank you for the excellent article describing the never ending and hard work of maintaining and preserving our national heritage.