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Why the Capitol Needs a 2-Year, $60 Million Restoration Why the Capitol Needs a 2-Year, $60 Million Restoration

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Why the Capitol Needs a 2-Year, $60 Million Restoration

October 22, 2013

The first landmark many see upon entering Washington through Union Station is the gleaming white monolith of the Capitol dome. A mountain looming over height-restricted buildings, it's one of the rare landmarks that looks bigger in person than in photos. But like a classic work of art that appears pristine and flawless from afar, a closer look shows its age.

Under inspection, the dome's ornaments are fissured with rust. Paint is coming off chip by chip. Because the dome is cast iron, it's really, really heavy. The dome's decorative acorns, for instance, are 80-pound, basketball-size fixtures, a potential danger to structures and people below. There are 1,300 known cracks in the dome, which have caused leaks into the rotunda in recent years.

On Tuesday, the Architect of the Capitol announced a $60 million restoration project to repair and restore the massive, 8.9 million-pound iron dome. It will take two years and, during that time, the dome will be covered in scaffolding, much like the Washington Monument is now.

Stock photographers take note: The Capitol will be rife with visual metaphor of decay and repair.

The dome as we know it was finished amid the Civil War. Congress commissioned the new roof when it deemed the previous copper-covered wooden structure to be too small. The unfinished dome was a fitting metaphor for the state of the country, and it served as the backdrop to President Lincoln's first Inaugural Address. The Statue of Freedom was set atop the dome in 1863, completing the exterior.

The dome has not undergone a restoration since the 1960s, according to the website of the architect's office, and it shows, as seen in the photos below.

The dome under construction, date unknown.(Library of Congress)

Over the next two years, the workers will try to reattach ornaments that had to be taken down, or replace them with new ones. "We have to have a full on rehabilitation, full on recasting, stitching, welding, sealing, and closure of the dome, not only for the operation of the dome itself but also for public safety," Eugene Poole, the project manager, said in a video released on the Architect's website.


Weather and cracking on boilerplate level just above the peristyle on the Capitol dome.(Architect of the Capitol / Flickr)

A pitted and corroded acorn.(Architect of the Capitol / Flickr)

Cast-iron plate failure, cracking and rust.(Architect of the Capitol / Flickr)


Rusting and iron failure of rosette at peristyle column.(

An acorn ornament removed from the dome; each acorn is basketball size and weighs approximately 80 pounds.(Architect of the Capitol / Flickr)

(Architect of the Capitol / Flickr)


(Architect of the Capitol / Flickr)

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