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Capitol Dome to Get $60M Makeover

Friday, October 25, 2013

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One of the most iconic symbols in America—the United States Capitol Dome—is set to undergo a two-year,  $60 million facelift beginning in November.

“From a distance, the Dome looks magnificent," but under the paint, "age and weather have taken its toll" and repairs are needed to preserve the structure, according to Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA, Architect of the Capitol.

A significant restoration—including paint removal, repairs to the cast iron, and repainting—has not been performed on the Capitol Dome since 1959 to 1960, according to an announcement by Ayers' office.

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

The first major restoration of the U.S. Capitol Dome in more than 50 years is slated to begin next month. The contractor is a joint venture of Turner Construction Company and Smoot Construction.

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.

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.

A Crumbling Dome

Weather and age have taken their toll on the structure, causing more than 1,000 cracks and other deficiencies.

Project details and images highlight the specific issues that are responsible for crumbling the Dome.

damage image

Cracks, rust and corrosion plague the U.S. Capitol Dome.

Water infiltrates through pinholes in the Statue of Freedom and through 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.

A Critical Project

The AOC says the restoration is critical for stopping the deterioration of the Dome’s cast iron and protecting the interior of the Dome and Rotunda, including artwork.

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

The project is expected to provide protection from the elements for the next 50 years.

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.


Decorative elements have fallen from the structure. The image shows a pitted and corroded acorn finial and belt course level, according to the AOC. Restoration will provide protection for 50 years.

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.

Contractor Selected

Last month, following a full and open competitive bidding process, a joint venture of Turner Construction Co. and Smoot Construction was selected to perform the project under close oversight by the AOC.

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."

"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."

Project Details

Officials say the majority of work will be conducted at night and on weekends to ensure minimal disruption to Congressional business, events and public tours.

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.

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 that occurred as a result of the 5.8 earthquake on Aug. 23, 2011.

Inside the Capitol 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.

AIA Support

News of the Dome restoration project was applauded by the American Institute of Architects.

“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 or by following AOC on Twitter @USCapitol.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural coatings; Architecture; Government; Government contracts; Maintenance + Renovation; Protective Coatings; Restoration; Waterproofing; Weathering

Comment from James Walsh, (10/25/2013, 8:17 AM)

so who was awarded the Painting Contract?

Comment from Jill Speegle, (10/25/2013, 11:39 AM)

James, thanks for reading D+D News and for your comment! Turner and Smoot Construction said Friday that no subcontracts on the project have been awarded yet.

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