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Crumbling Capitol Dome to be Restored

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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Majestic from afar, but disintegrating from within, the U.S. Capitol Dome is about to undergo a critically needed $60 million restoration effort.

Widespread corrosion, more than 1,000 cracks, deteriorated protective coating, and broken decorative elements riddle the landmark, which has not seen significant restoration work in more than 50 years, authorities say.

Meanwhile, weather, water and age have taken their toll on the 150-year-old icon, threatening not only the exterior dome but its interior and the Rotunda within.

U.S. Capitol
All images and video: Architect of the Capitol

“From a distance, the Dome looks magnificent," says the Architect of the Capitol. "On closer look, under the paint, age and weather have taken its toll and the AOC needs to make repairs...."

The two-year project is set to begin in November, according to an announcement by the Architect of the Capitol.

Contractors Named

The project was awarded in September to Turner Construction Co. and Smoot Construction "following a full and open competitive bidding process," according to the Architect of the Capitol (AOC).

The contractors will work  "under close oversight by the AOC to ensure the project remains on time and on budget and minimizes disruption to the work of Congress."

No subcontracts have been awarded.

U.S. Capitol Building - scaffold rendering Capitol Dome diagram
All images and video: Architect of the Capitol

Scaffolding will surround the Capitol Dome throughout the two-year project, and the site will be illuminated for work at night. The building will remain open during the project.

The Capitol Dome is made of nine million pounds of fireproof cast iron and was designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter to replace an original dome of copper and wood.

Decades of Disintegration

The Dome was built from 1855 to 1866; the final section of the Statue of Freedom atop the Dome was installed on Dec. 2, 1863.

The structure's last significant restoration—including paint removal, repairs to the cast iron, and repainting—was performed in 1959 and 1960, according to the AOC.

Since then, decades of rain, sleet, snow and sun have left leaks, corrosion, broken materials and cracks in their wake, authoirities say.

damage image

More than 1,000 cracks and corrosion plague the U.S. Capitol Dome.

Water leaks in through pinholes in the Statue of Freedom and through hundreds of cracks and open joints throughout the exterior shell. The leaks have led to rusting of ironwork and failure of the protective coating systems, according to the AOC.

Decorative elements are also rusting and, in some cases, falling from the structure.

More project details and images are available on the AOC's site.

Saving the Dome

“As stewards of the Capitol for the Congress and the American people, we must conduct this critical work to save the Dome,” said Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA, LEED AP, Architect of the Capitol.

The effort will be similar to the Dome's last significant exterior renovation in 1959. Back then, the exterior was stripped of its paint so the ironwork could be repaired and primed with a rust inhibitor.

damage

Decorative elements have corroded, pitted and fallen from the structure. Restoration will provide protection for 50 years, according to the AOC.

Thus, the project beginning in November will include coating removal, repairs to the cast iron, and repainting.

The authorized budget for the project is $59.55 million, which includes the recent award for construction, contingency costs and project support.

The project is expected to protect the structure for the next 50 years.

Project Details

Most of the work will be conducted at night and on weekends to minimize disruption to Congressional business, events and public tours, officials said.

Throughout the project, a scaffold system will surround the Dome from the base of the Statue of Freedom down to the top of the Dome skirt, or base.

Scaffold towers and bridging will also be installed to help transfer materials to the work areas.

Inside the Rotunda, a doughnut-shaped white canopy system will be installed to protect the public. The system will allow the fresco Apotheosis of Washington, in the eye of the Rotunda, to be viewed throughout restoration.

The Capitol project will mean that two structures on the National Mall in Washington D.C. will be shrouded in scaffolding, as the National Park Service continues to repair damage to the Washington Monument from the earthquake of Aug. 23, 2011.

'Excited and Honored'

Chrystal Stowe, a vice president at Smoot Construction, told the Los Angeles Times that the chance to work on the Capitol was a "once-in-a-career opportunity."

US Capitol Dome damage

Cast-iron plate failure, corrosion and cracking have disintegrated a tholos on the Dome.

"It's one of the most symbolic buildings that we have ever had the privilege of working on," she said. "We're both excited and honored to have been selected by the Architect of the Capitol. It's a one-of-a-kind building."

The American Institute of Architects applauded the project.

“Even in an age of government shutdowns and Congressional gridlock, the Dome still represents the best that democracy has to offer," AIA President Mickey Jacob, FAIA, said in a statement.

“The AIA has consistently said that repairing the Dome must be a top priority for Congress. We are gratified by this announcement, and fully support a focus of resources on the many other government structures also in need of repair and maintenance.”

More information and updates are available at www.aoc.gov/dome or by following AOC on Twitter @USCapitol.

   

Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural coatings; Architecture; Corrosion protection; Government; Government contracts; Waterproofing; Weathering

Comment from Billy Russell, (10/29/2013, 6:07 AM)

A Truly important landmark long over due for repairs.


Comment from Richard Hogue, (10/29/2013, 8:14 AM)

Just like Congress. Magnificent from afar, decaying and crumbling from within.


Comment from Quentin Smith, (10/29/2013, 9:26 AM)

I remember as a child seeing the dome painted red lead orange and then finally white as the work progressed. I wonder what paint system they will use this time.


Comment from trevor neale, (10/30/2013, 4:15 PM)

Has a detailed specification been released ?


Comment from Douglas Steitz, (11/3/2013, 4:55 PM)

Spot on Richard !!


Comment from William Feliciano, (11/13/2013, 3:13 PM)

Richard, best laugh I've had here at my desk in quite a while. Thank you! Your aim was dead on.


Comment from F.D. Thomas, Inc. Estimating, (11/20/2013, 6:19 PM)

Exterior is prime coat of epoxy, epoxy scratch coat, epoxy mid coat, Fluoropolymer topcoat


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