Test your knowledge of historic and iconic buildings in the U.S. (and beyond!) in this series of “guess the building” blog posts.
Series No. 1: A Neoclassical “Temple of Liberty”
This iconic building has undergone several expansion campaigns since construction first began in the eighteenth century. It now contains over 600 rooms totaling 1.5 million square feet of space, and it is visited by millions of people annually. Where is this remarkable building? Scroll down for the answer.
Answer: The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Built in stages under the supervision of a half-dozen architects, the Capitol is an instantly-recognizable symbol of national identity. The massive cast-iron dome was surveyed by Vertical Access in 2007 and 2010, and is currently undergoing the first major restoration in over 50 years. Click here for more information about the Capitol and the dome restoration.
Capitols are among our favorite types of buildings to work on, and since our first investigation of the Massachusetts State House twenty years ago, we’ve had the pleasure of visiting ten of them – eight state capitols in addition to the U.S. Capitol and Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building. Earlier this month, Vertical Access returned to the Michigan State Capitol, where we first worked in 2005 with Quinn Evans Architects and The Christman Company.
Kent inspects the drum of the Michigan State Capitol in 2005.
The last major restoration of Michigan’s capitol was completed in 1992, and the purpose of our 2005 visit was to see how the paint coatings and materials were holding up at the drum, dome and lantern. Nine years later, with over twenty years elapsed since the 1992 restoration, we once again made the trip to Lansing, Michigan to inspect the dome. This time, there were also reports of water infiltration. Returning with the same project team, technicians Evan Kopelson and Keith Luscinski surveyed the dome, drum and lantern using TPAS™ (Tablet PC Annotation System) to document existing conditions for an upcoming repair project.
Do all of the state capitols have domes?
All but twelve of the fifty state capitols have an exterior dome (original plans for both the Ohio and New York State Capitols included domes that were never built). Many early state capitol buildings in the United States were topped with domes inspired by examples from Europe and ancient Rome. The U.S. Capitol dome, completed in 1866, set the standard for the state capitol domes that would follow. Most of the current state capitols were built after 1866, and the national capitol’s massive cast-iron dome had a strong influence on many of them.
It can be difficult to gain hands-on access to all of those domes and cupolas. Fixed ladders, access hatches, and windows usually provide a way to reach the exterior of a dome lantern or cupola, where we can set up anchors for rope access drops. But some buildings have no access systems in place, like the Wyoming State Capitol, where we hauled a heavy 40-foot ladder into the dome in order to climb to the top. Even with these challenges, using industrial rope access for domes, cupolas, and towers is fast, efficient, and economical compared to other means of access.
The New Jersey State House before restoration (left, during VA’s 1996 investigation) and after restoration (right, during our 2013 visit).
Capital projects for capitol buildings
Monumental public buildings often have monumental price tags for restoration, with deferred maintenance being a major cost driver. Some of the challenges for building professionals working on state capitols include ever-changing occupant needs, increased standards for safety and security, accessibility, energy efficiency, and technology upgrades. Facilities maintenance was put on the back burner during the Great Recession, but many states are now moving ahead with repair and restoration projects. State capitols in the news for recent, ongoing, or planned repair and restoration campaigns include Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and the U.S. Capitol.
A few of the conditions we’ve documented on capitol buildings.
Dates and Architects: 1792 (Jonathon Doane), 1845 (John Notman), 1871 (Samuel Sloane), 1889 (dome, Lewis Broome)
Landmark Status: Contributing resource in a National Register Historic District
Materials: Cast iron drum and lantern and gilded copper dome.
Scope of work: VA coordinated site investigations and safe access for a comprehensive restoration completed in 1999. Our 2013 investigation included ultrasonic testing, paint adhesion testing, and fiber-optic investigation with live-feed video.
Scope of work: VA conducted a 100% hands-on survey of the drum, dome, and lantern exterior, characterized the materials used at various locations, assessed the condition of paint coatings (including adhesion testing and removal of samples), and identified prior painting campaigns.