Do­ing up the dome

Af­ter al­most 150 years, it’s about time this lady got some work done.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SPACES - By CHARLES BABING­TON

AWORLD-fa­mous sym­bol of democ­racy will be un­der cover soon, as work­ers start a two-year, US$60mil (RM199.4mil) ren­o­va­tion of the US Capi­tol dome in Wash­ing­ton DC.

Curved rows of scaf­folds, like Saturn’s rings, will en­cir­cle it in the com­ing months, 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 paint­cap­tur­ing cloths. But the Wash­ing­ton icon – and por­tions of the Ro­tunda’s painted ceil­ing that lies be­low – will be sig­nif­i­cantly ob­scured for many months.

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

Half-com­pleted when US Pres­i­dent Abraham Lin­coln stood be­neath it to sum­mon “the bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture” in 1861 (when the Amer­i­can Civil War be­gan), the Capi­tol dome has since tow­ered over Wash­ing­ton, which lim­its build­ing heights to un­der 40m. Time, how­ever, has let wa­ter seep through hun­dreds of cracks. The wa­ter at­tacks cast iron, which “con­tin­ues to rust and rust and rust”, says 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”. The un­der­tak­ing will heal in­ner wounds, he says, with­out chang­ing the way the dome looks from the ground.

Much of the work will be done at night and on week­ends. And it won’t be as flashy as the 1993 he­li­copter re­moval and re­turn of the 5m Statue of Free­dom from the dome’s top.

The Capi­tol’s crown­ing piece is ac­tu­ally 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 that would be too heavy for the build­ing to sup­port if it were in­deed made of the solid stone it ap­pears to be.

In­stead, it is cast iron painted to look like ma­sonry. The lighter ma­te­rial and open space be­tween the in­ner and outer domes cre­ate a phys­i­cally sus­tain­able struc­ture. But it’s by no means puny.

The dome’s iron and ma­sonry weigh 6.4 mil­lion ki­los, says Kevin Hilde­brand of the Capi­tol ar­chi­tect’s of­fice. He re­cently led re­porters up nar­row, spi­ralling stairs that reach the Ro­tunda’s top and then give ac­cess to the in-be­tween world of gird­ers sep­a­rat­ing the two domes. Ul­ti­mately, the steps lead out­doors, to a panoramic walk­way be­neath the 12-columned lan­tern, or tho­los, topped by the Statue of Free­dom.

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 and pin­holes in the cast iron ex­te­rior added to the seep­age.

Pans now cap­ture the wa­ter. Congress fi­nally agreed to spend US$60mil (RM199.4mil) for a bet­ter, more last­ing so­lu­tion. “It is the sym­bol of our coun­try,” Hilde­brand says. “It is an icon that has to be pre­served.”

The 150-year-old cast iron is lowqual­ity by to­day’s stan­dards, he says, adding, “it’s an ar­chaic ma­te­rial.” A dome to­day prob­a­bly would be built with glass and steel, he says. But Capi­tol work­ers must deal with rel­a­tively brit­tle iron that doesn’t re­spond well to weld­ing.

First they must re­move, cap­ture and safely dis­pose of sev­eral lay­ers of lead-based paint. When they reach bare iron, they must quickly prime and paint it sec­tion

by sec­tion, Hilde­brand rust”

Work on the Capi­tol’s cast-iron dome be­gan in 1855 with the re­moval of the pre­vi­ous wooden dome. In 1860, the new york foundry of Janes, Fowler, Kirt­land & Com­pany won the con­tract to fin­ish the dome; at the out­break of the Civil War in 1861, the con­trac­tor was ad­vised not to ex­pect fur­ther pay­ment but the com­pany de­cided to con­tinue any­way. That de­ci­sion in­spired then Pres­i­dent abraham Lin­coln and oth­ers to see the dome as a sign that the na­tion would also con­tinue. The last sec­tion of the Statue of Free­dom was po­si­tioned on dec 2, 1863, and the in­te­rior was fin­ished in 1866. — ar­chi­tect of the Capi­tol

Wa­ter dam­age (top) and peel­ing paint show­ing on the dome’s walls. — aP

Amer­i­can sym­bol: The eye-catch­ing Capi­tol dome is a fa­mil­iar sight around the globe thanks to the count­less TV shows and movies in which it has ap­peared. The dan­ger Be­tween and stone is in­ner

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