Sunday 17 December 2017

€45m for renovation of iconic US Capitol

Washington's Capitol Hill
Washington's Capitol Hill

Charles Babington

A WORLD-famous symbol of democracy is going under cover as workers begin a two-year, $60m (€45m) renovation of the US Capitol dome.

Curved rows of scaffolds, like Saturn's rings, will encircle it next spring, enabling contractors to strip multiple layers of paint and repair more than 1,000 cracks and broken pieces.

The dome will remain illuminated at night and partly visible through the scaffolding and paint-capturing cloths, but the Washington icon -- and portions of the Rotunda's painted ceiling that lies below -- will be significantly obscured for months.

The project is beginning just as the nearby Washington Monument sheds scaffolding used to repair damage from a 2011 earthquake.

Half-completed when Abraham Lincoln stood beneath it to summon "the better angels of our nature" in 1861, the Capitol dome has since towered over Washington, which limits building heights to 40 metres.

Time, however, has let water seep through hundreds of cracks. It attacks cast iron, which "continues to rust and rust and rust", said Stephen T Ayers, Architect of the Capitol.


This first major renovation in more than 50 years should add decades of structural integrity to the dome, which Ayers calls perhaps "the most recognisable symbol across the globe".

Much of the work will be done at night and at weekends.

The Capitol's crowning piece is two domes, one nested under the other like Russian dolls, and separated by a web of cast iron braces hidden from view.

From the ground it looks like a massive structure too heavy for the building to support if made of stone, as it appears to be. Instead, it is cast iron painted to look like masonry.

After a 1990 rainstorm left puddles on the Rotunda's stone floor, workers found that bird nests had clogged gutters atop the Capitol, helping water penetrate outer walls and streak interior surfaces.

Then they found bigger problems -- hundreds of cracks in the cast iron exterior added to the seepage.

Congress agreed to spend $60m for a lasting solution.

"It is the symbol of our country," said Kevin Hildebrand of the Capitol Architect's office. "It is an icon that has to be preserved."

Irish Independent

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