Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.
|William Thornton; Benjamin Henry Latrobe; Charles Bulfinch; Thomas U. Walter, FAIA; Montgomery C. Meigs. T.U. Walter.|
|cast iron dome and extensions, LIMESTONE CLADDING|
|photo J. Howe
|Click on thumbnails for larger image|
|Frederick Law Olmsted, "General Plan for
the Improvement of the U.S. Capitol Grounds," 1874, Ink and water color on
paper, Architect of the Capitol.
|and Thomas U. Walter and Montgomery Meigs,
"Plan of Principal Story, North Wing," c. 1856, Ink and ink washes on paper,
Architect of the Capitol.
|Below- Capitol Building, Washington, DC, 1792-1827 (W: 1793-1830) (William Thornton, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Charles Bulfinch)|
|William Thornton, [East Elevation for North Wing], 1795-1797, Water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|Stephen Hallet, [Principal Floor, Plan of Fifth Design for Capitol], 1793, Ink and Water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|William Thornton, [Plan of the Principal Floor of the Capitol], c. 1793-1797, Ink and water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|Benjamin Henry Latrobe, "Sections of the Court Room, N. Wing, Capitol," c. 1808, Watercolor on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|Benjamin Henry Latrobe, "Design of the Library of Congress of the United States, North Wing of the Capitol," 1808, Ink and water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, [Plan of the House of Representatives], c. 1808-1813, Ink and Water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|Benjamin Henry Latrobe, [Study for a West Front], c. 1808-1809, Water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|Benjamin Henry Latrobe, [Plan of the Mall and the Capitol Grounds], 1815, Water color on paper, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.|
|and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, [Details of the Senate Ceiling and Roof], c. 1807-1809, Water color on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.|
|Alexander Jackson Davis, designer;
Archibald L. Dick, engraver, "Capitol of the United States. Plan of the
Principal Floor." c. 1832-1834, Ink and water color on paper, Prints and
Photographs, Division Library of Congress.
and: Alexander Jackson Davis, "Plan of the Ceilings of the Capitol of the United States, Washington," c. 1832-1834, Engraving on paper, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
|John Rubens Smith, [West Front of the Capitol with Gatehouses], c. 1828, Water color on paper, John Rubens Smith, Collection Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (Gift of the Madison Council and Mrs. Joseph Carson).|
|Charles Fenderich, "Elevation of the
Eastern Front of the Capitol of the United States," Washington: William
Fischer, 1839, Lithograph, Prints and Photographs Division Library of
and:John Plumbe, [East Front of the Capitol], 1846, Copyprint from glass negative, Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress.
|North Wing , 1800, engraving by Birch, manuscripts div., Library of Congress.|
The west face of the United States Capitol
seen from the Capitol Reflection Pool, 2002
Location Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
Country United States of America
Architect William Thornton (first of many)
Client Washington administration
Construction start date September 18, 1793
Style American Neoclassicism
Size 274 acres (1.11 km²)
The United States Capitol is the capitol building that serves as the seat of government for the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. Although not in the geographic center of the District of Columbia, the Capitol is the focus by which the quadrants of the district are divided. Curiously, the west face, which is often taken to be the "front" of the building, is actually its "back"; the true front is the east face.
The building was originally designed by William Thornton. This plan was subsequently modified by Stephen Hallet, Benjamin Latrobe and then Charles Bulfinch. The current dome and the House and Senate wings were designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, a German immigrant, and were completed under the supervision of Edward Clark.
The building is marked by its central dome above a rotunda and two wings, one for each chamber of Congress: the north wing is the Senate chamber and the south wing is the House of Representatives chamber. Above these chambers are galleries where visitors can watch the Senate and House of Representatives. It is an example of the Neoclassical architecture style.
Design for the U.S. Capitol, "An Elevation for a Capitol," by James Diamond was one of many submitted in the 1792 contest, but not selected.
Prior to 1800, at a least eight other buildings and eight other cities have hosted Congress, going back to the First Continental Congress. Since the ratification of the United States Constitution, Congress has only met in two other buildings. The capital was first located in New York, with Congress meeting in City Hall (Federal Hall) from 1785 to 1790. Philadelphia served as the Capital from 1790 to 1800. During that time, Congress met at the Philadelphia County Building (Congress Hall).
The site for the United States Capitol chosen by Pierre Charles L'Enfant was Jenkins Hill, which rose 88 feet (27 m) above the Potomac River. The site is one mile (1.6 km) from the White House. Pierre-Charles L'Enfant secured the lease of quarries at Wigginton Island and along Aquia Creek in Virginia for use in the foundations and outer walls of the Capitol in November 1791.
In 1792, a contest was announced by Commissioners of the Federal City seeking designs for both the Congress House and the President's House. The contest deadline was July 15, 1792, with rewards including $500 and a lot in the city. All the drawings submitted were considered inadequate and rejected. The most promising of the submissions was by Stephen Hallet. However, a late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted on January 31, 1793 to much praise by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Thornton was inspired by east front of the Louvre, as well as the Pantheon for the center portion of the design. Thornton's design was officially approved in a letter, dated April 5, 1793, from George Washington. In effort to console Hallet, the commissioners appointed him to review Thornton's plans, develop cost estimates, and serve as superintendent of construction. Hallet proceeded to pick apart and make drastic changes to Thornton's design, which he saw as amateur with numerous problems and high costs to build. Jefferson appointed a five-member commission, including Hallet and James Hoban, to address problems with and revise Thornton's plan. Except for some details in Thornton's plan that specified an open recess in the center of the East front, the revised plan was accepted.
The Capitol when first occupied by Congress, 1800
Adorned in masonic attire, George Washington laid the cornerstone on September 18, 1793 during a groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the Capitol. The stone is located near the Old Supreme Court, through a passageway taken by people visiting the United States Senate Gallery. It is not known that this actually is the original cornerstone, but it was engraved with a masonic symbol and commissioned in 1893 (100 years after its placement). The cornerstone has been moved from its original location.
Construction proceeded with Hallet working under supervision of James Hoban, who was also busy working on construction of the White House. Despite the wishes of Jefferson and the President, Hallet went ahead anyway and modified Thornton's design for the East front and created a square central court that projected from the center, with flanking wings which would house the legislative bodies. Hallet was dismissed by Jefferson on November 15, 1794. George Hadfield was hired on October 15, 1795 as superintendent of construction, but resigned three years later in May 1798, due to dissatisfaction with Thornton's plan and quality of work done thus far.
The Senate wing was completed in 1800, while the House wing was completed in 1811. However, the House of Representatives moved into the House wing in 1807. Though the building was incomplete, the Capitol held its first session of United States Congress on November 17, 1800. The legislature was moved to Washington prematurely, at the urging of President John Adams in hopes of securing enough Southern votes to be re-elected for a second term as president.
The Capitol was built and later expanded in the 1850s using the labor of slaves "who cut the logs, laid the stones and baked the bricks." The original plan was to use workers brought in from Europe; however, there was a poor response to recruitment efforts, and African Americans—free and slave—composed the majority of the work force.
The Supreme Court also met in the Capitol until its own building (behind the East Front) was completed in 1935.
War of 1812
Not long after the completion of both wings, the Capitol was partially burned by the British in August 1814, during the War of 1812. Reconstruction began in 1815 and was completed by 1819. Construction continued through to 1826, with the addition of the center Rotunda area and the first dome of the Capitol. Architect Benjamin Latrobe is principally connected with the original construction and many innovative interior features; his successor, Charles Bulfinch, also played a major role, such as the design of the first dome.
The building was expanded dramatically in the 1850s. The original timber-framed dome of 1818 would no longer be appropriately scaled. Thomas U. Walter was responsible for the wing extensions and the "wedding cake" cast-iron dome, three times the height of the original dome and 100 feet (30 m) in diameter, which had to be supported on the existing masonry piers. Like Mansart's dome at Les Invalides (which he had visited in 1838), Walter's dome is double, with a large oculus in the inner dome, through which is seen The Apotheosis of Washington painted on a shell suspended from the supporting ribs, which also support the visible exterior structure and the tholos that supports the Freedom, a colossal statue that was added to the top of the dome in 1863. The weight of the cast-iron for the dome has been published as 8,909,200 pounds (4,041,100 kg).
When the dome of the Capitol was finally completed, it was significantly larger than the original plan, and its massive visual weight overpowered the proportions of the columns of the East Portico, built in 1828. The East Front of the Capitol building was rebuilt in 1904, following a design of the architects Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the Senate and House office buildings. A marble duplicate of the sandstone East Front was built 33.5 feet (10.2 m) from the old Front during 1958-1962, and a connecting extension incorporated what formerly was an outside wall as an inside wall. In the process, the Corinthian columns were removed, and landscape designer Russell Page created a suitable setting for them in a large meadow at the National Arboretum, where they are combined with a reflecting pool in an ensemble that reminds some visitors of Persepolis. The Capitol draws heavily from other notable buildings, especially churches and landmarks in Europe, including the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London. On the roofs of the Senate and House Chambers are flagpoles that fly the U.S. flag when either is in session.
Underground tunnels (and even a private underground railway) connect the main Capitol building with each of the Congressional office buildings in the surrounding complex. All rooms in the Capitol are designated as either S (for Senate) or H (for House), depending on whether they are north (Senate) or south (House) of the Rotunda. Similarly, rooms in the Congressional office buildings are designated as HOB (for House Office Building, which are all south of the Capitol) or SOB (for Senate Office Building, which are all north of the Capitol). Additionally, all addresses in Washington, D. C. are designated NE, NW, SE, or SW, in relationship to the Rotunda. (Since the Capitol Rotunda is not located in the center of the District — it is slightly farther east and south — the four D.C. quadrants are not the same shape and size.)
On June 20, 2000, ground was broken for the Capitol Visitor Center, which is due to open in Summer 2008. Since 2001, the East Front of the Capitol (site of most Presidential Inaugurations until Ronald Reagan broke tradition in 1981) has been the site of construction for this massive underground complex, designed to facilitate a more orderly entrance for visitors to the Capitol. (When construction is complete, the East Front will be restored to its earlier, pre-pavement appearance.) Prior to the center being built, visitors to the Capitol had to queue on the parking lot and ascend the stairs, whereupon entry was made through the massive sculpted Columbus Doors, through a small narthex (with cramped security) and thence directly into the Rotunda. The new underground facility will provide a grand entrance hall, a visitors theater, room for exhibits, and dining and restroom facilities, in addition to space for building necessities such as an underground service tunnel. Some people, however, lament the loss of the ability of the common person to walk right into the Capitol.
The West front of the United States Capitol
The Capitol Grounds cover approximately 274 acres (1.11 km²), with the grounds proper consisting mostly of lawns, walkways, streets, drives, and planting areas. The current grounds were designed by noted American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who planned the expansion and landscaping performed from 1874 to 1892. In 1875, as one of his first recommendations, Olmsted proposed the construction of the marble terraces on the north, west, and south sides of the building that exist today.
Olmstead also designed the Summer House, the open-air brick building that sits just north of the Capitol. Three arches open into the hexagonal structure, which encloses a fountain and twenty-two brick chairs. A fourth wall holds a small window that looks onto an artificial grotto. Built between 1879 and 1881, the Summer House was intended to answer complaints that visitors to the Capitol had no place to sit and no place to obtain water for their horses and themselves. Modern drinking fountains have since replaced Olmsted's fountain for the latter purpose. Olmsted intended to build a second, matching Summer House on the southern side of the Capitol, but Congressional objections led to the project's cancellation.
Up to four U.S. flags can be seen flying over the Capitol. Two flagpoles are at the base of the dome on the East and West front. These flagpoles have flown the flag day and night since World War I. The other two flagpoles are above the North and South wings of the building and fly only when the chamber below is in session. The flag above the House of Representatives is raised and lowered by pages. Several auxiliary flagpoles, to the west of the dome and invisible from the ground, are used to meet Members' requests for flags flown over the Capitol. Constituents of Members of Congress pay to have a U.S. flag flown over the Capitol for a short time to commemorate a variety of events (death of a veteran family member, birthdays, etc.).
The fresco painted on interior of the Capitol's dome titled The Apotheosis of Washington was painted by Constantino Brumidi.The Capitol has a long history in American art, beginning in 1856 with Italian-American artist Constantino Brumidi and his murals in the hallways of the first floor of the Senate side of the Capitol. The murals, known as the Brumidi Corridors, reflect great moments and people in American history. Among the original works are those depicting Benjamin Franklin, John Fitch, Robert Fulton, and events such as the Cession of Louisiana. Also decorating the walls are animals, insects and natural flora indigenous to the United States. Brumidi's design left many spaces open so that future events in American history could be added. Among those added are the Spirit of St. Louis, the Moon landing, and the Challenger shuttle crew.
National Statuary Hall CollectionBrumidi also worked within the Capitol Rotunda. He is responsible for the painting of The Apotheosis of Washington beneath the top of the dome, and also the famous Frieze of American History. The Apotheosis of Washington was completed in 11 months and painted by Brumidi while suspended nearly 180 feet (55 m) in the air. It is said the be the first attempt by America to deify a founding father. Washington is depicted surrounded by 13 maidens in an inner ring with many Greek and Roman gods and goddesses below him in a second ring. The frieze is located around the inside of the base of the dome and is a chronological, pictorial history of America from the landing of Christopher Columbus to the Wright Brothers's flight in Kitty Hawk. The frieze was started in 1878 and was not completed until 1953. The frieze was therefore painted by four different artists: Brumidi, Filippo Costaggini, Charles Ayer Whipple, and Allyn Cox. The final scenes depicted in the fresco had not yet occurred when Brumidi began his Frieze of American History.
Within the Rotunda is also located eight paintings of the development of America as a nation. On the east side are four paintings depicting major events in the discovery of America. On the west are four paintings depicting the founding of the American Nation. The east side paintings include The Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert W. Weir, The Discovery of the Mississippi by William H. Powell, and The Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn. On the west side is The Declaration of Independence, The Surrender of General Burgoyne, The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and General George Washington Resigning His Commission, all painted by John Trumbull, a contemporary of America's founding fathers and a participant in the American Revolutionary War. In fact, Trumbull painted himself into The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis.
The Capitol also houses the National Statuary Hall Collection comprising statues donated by the fifty states to honor persons notable in their histories. One of the most notable statues in the National Statuary Hall is a bronze statue of King Kamehameha donated by the state of Hawaii upon its accession to the union in 1959. The statue's extraordinary weight of 15,000 pounds raised concerns that it might come crashing through the floor, so it was moved to a position in the Hall which could withstand the weight load.
The Capitol dome
Under the Rotunda there is an area known as the Crypt. It was designed to look down on the final resting place of George Washington in the tomb below. However, under the stipulations of his last will, Washington was buried at Mount Vernon, and as such the area remains open to visitors. The Crypt now houses exhibits on the history of the Capitol. A star inlaid in the floor marks the point at which Washington D.C. is divided into its four quadrants; however, the exact center of the city lies near the White House. At one end of the room near the Old Supreme Court is a statue of John C. Calhoun. On the leg of the statue, you can clearly see a mark from a bullet fired during the 1998 shooting incident. The bullet also left a mark on the cape.
Eleven other presidents have lain in state in the Rotunda for public viewing, most recently Gerald Ford. The tomb meant for Washington now stores the catafalque which is used to support caskets lying in state or honor in the Capitol. After the Capitol Visitors Center is completed, the catafalque will be on display for the general public to see when not in use.
In the basement of the Capitol building in a utility room are two marble bathtubs, which are all that remain of the once elaborate Senate baths. These baths were a spa-like facility designed for members of Congress and their guests before many buildings in the city had modern plumbing. The facilities included several bathtubs, a barbershop, and a massage parlor.
There are also 365 steps leading up to the West Front of the Capitol Building, each representing a day in the year.
The House of Representatives Chamber is adorned with relief portraits of famous lawmakers and lawgivers throughout history.
The President delivers the annual State of the Union Address in the House chamber.In order clockwise around the chamber:
Robert Joseph Pothier
Jean Baptiste Colbert
Pope Gregory IX
Suleiman the Magnificent
Pope Innocent III
Simon de Montfort
Sir William Blackstone
The Capitol as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue at nightIn 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on members of Congress from the visitors gallery. In 1971, a bomb exploded on the ground floor, placed by a new left group called the Weather Underground or Weatherman. They placed the bomb as a demonstration against U.S. involvement in Laos. On November 7, 1983, the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee claimed responsibility for a bomb that detonated in the lobby outside the office of Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd. On July 24, 1998, Russell Eugene Weston Jr. burst into the Capitol and opened fire, killing two United States Capitol Police officers.
The Capitol building is believed to have been the intended target of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, before it crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania after passengers tried to take over control of the plane from hijackers. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the roads and grounds around the U.S. Capitol Building have undergone dramatic changes.
Construction is well underway on an underground, 3-level, 580,000 square foot (54,000 m²) United States Capitol Visitor Center by the east face of the Capitol. The estimated final cost as of March 2007 is about $600 million. The project had long been in the planning stages, but the attacks provided the impetus to start work. Construction began in the fall of 2001. Security is expected to be enhanced by directing all public visitors through the center. Critics say that security improvements have been the least of the project's expense; indeed, construction delays and added features by Congress continue to add to the cost. Citizens Against Government Waste have called it a Monument to Waste. However many, including those who work in the Capitol, consider it a necessary and appropriate historical project. It will be mainly underground, though skylights will provide views of the Capitol dome.
The United States Capitol Police have also installed checkpoints to inspect vehicles at specific locations around Capitol Hill, and have closed a section of one street indefinitely. The level of screening employed varies. On the main east-west thoroughfares of Constitution and Independence Avenues, barricades are implanted in the roads that can be raised in the event of an emergency. Trucks larger than pickups are interdicted by the Capitol Police and are instructed to use other routes. On the checkpoints at the shorter cross streets, the barriers are typically kept in a permanent “emergency” position, and only vehicles with special permits are allowed to pass.
Finally, structures ranging from scores of Jersey barriers to hundreds of ornamental bollards have been erected to obstruct the path of any vehicles that might stray from the designated roadways. Each of the poles is reported to cost $7,500.
The body of former President Ronald Reagan lying in stateThe Capitol, as well as the grounds of Capitol Hill, have played host to major events. Every year since 1990, people gather on the west lawn on the Sunday before Memorial Day for the National Memorial Day Concert, typically broadcast on PBS.
Every July 4, people gather on Capitol Hill to celebrate Independence Day.
Among the major events the Capitol has hosted:
Americans lying in state. Among them:
Senator Henry Clay (1852), the first person to lie in state at the Capitol.
President Abraham Lincoln (1865)
Representative Thaddeus Stevens (1868)
President James Garfield (1881)
President William McKinley (1901)
President Warren Harding (1923)
President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft (1930)
President John F. Kennedy (1963)
General Douglas MacArthur (1964)
President Herbert Hoover (1964)
President Dwight Eisenhower (1969)
Senator Everett Dirksen (1969)
Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover (1972)
President Lyndon Johnson (1973)
Vice-President Hubert Humphrey (1978)
Representative Claude Pepper (1989)
President Ronald Reagan (2004)
President Gerald Ford (2006-07)
Americans lying in honor:
Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson (1998), the two officers killed in the 1998 shooting incident (Chestnut was the first African American ever to lie in honor in the Capitol)
Civil rights icon Rosa Parks: the first woman and second African American to lie in honor in the Capitol (2005).
Visiting the Capitol
The United States Capitol is open for visitation Monday through Saturday through much of the year, including Federal holidays. During the work week, entry into the Capitol can be found through three means. One, procuring passes for a public guided tour from the United States Capitol Guides at a kiosk on the southwest corner of the grounds; second, via reserved tours arranged through one's Senator's or Representative's office; and third, by obtaining gallery passes to view the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate (passes are obtained from Representative/Senator office for corresponding chamber, and for international visitors, by simply showing a photo ID to the Capitol Guides). The gallery for the House of Representatives is open for visitation from 9 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday, or while the Representatives are in session. Likewise, the gallery for the United States Senate is only open when the Senate is in session. Both galleries are closed on Saturday, unless either house is in session.
^ Robert O. Woods; under the Capitol dome ; Mechanical engineering ; June 2003
^ A Brief Construction History of the Capitol; Architect of the Capitol
^ a b Federal Writers' Project (1937). Washington, City and Capital: Federal Writers' Project. Works Progress Administration / United States Government Printing Office, p. 210.
^ Morgan, J.D. (1899). "Maj. Pierre Charles L'Enfant". Records of the Columbia Historical Society 2: p. 120.
^ Frary (1969), p. 21
^ Frary (1969), pp. 21-22
^ Frary (1969), p. 28
^ William Thornton (1759-1828). Library of Congress. Retrieved on 2007-07-07.
^ Frary (1969), p. 33
^ Frary (1969), p. 34-35
^ Frary (1969), p. 36
^ Hazelton (1907), p. 84
^ Ovason, David, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital: the Masons and the building of Washington, D.C. New York City: Perennial, 2002. ISBN 0060195371 ISBN 978-0060195373
^ Frary (1969), p. 37-39
^ Frary (1969), p. 44-45
^ Carter II, Edward C. (1971-1972). "Benjamin Henry Latrobe and the Growth and Development of Washington, 1798-1818". Records of the Columbia Historical Society: p. 139.
^ "Capitol slave labor studied", Associate Press / Washington Times, June 1, 2005.
^ Timeline. White House Historical Association. Retrieved on 2007-06-10.
^ Frieze of American History
^ "Al-Jazeera offers accounts of 9/11 planning", CNN, September 12, 2002.
^ Report of the 9/11 Commission, US Govt Printing Office
^ Ruane, Michael E. and Joe Stephens. "Capitol Visitor Center Debut Again Delayed", The Washington Post, March 8, 2007.
^ Olczak, Jesse (February 28, 2005). Capitol Visitor Center - Monument to Government Waste. Citizens Against Government Waste.
^ United States Capitol Police (2004-08-02). Increased Security on Capitol Grounds. Press release. Retrieved on 2006-09-26.
^ a b Lyndsey Layton and Manny Fernandez. "Street Closing Irks D.C. Leaders: Checkpoints Set Up Near World Bank, IMF and Capitol", The Washington Post, 2004-08-03. Retrieved on 2006-09-26.
Frary, Ihna Thayer (1969). They Built the Capitol. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0836950895.
Hazelton, George Cochrane (1907). The National Capitol. J. F. Taylor & Co., p. 84.
Associated Press (2005). Capitol slave labor studied. Washington Times. Retrieved on February 18, 2006.
White House Historical Association (Date unknown). 1790s—African Americans. Timelines. Retrieved on February 18, 2006.
Armed Resistance Unit Bombs US Capitol, Death To The Klan (Winter, 1984, No.3).
F.B.I. Chief Says Capitol Bombing Resembles Other Blasts, Leslie Maitland Werner, The New York Times, November 11, 1983, Sec A; Page 24.
|Special thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians
for some of the images on this page (copyright SAH).