A world-famous symbol of democracy is going under cover, as workers start a two-year, $60 million renovation of the U.S. Capitol dome.
Curved rows of scaffolds, like Saturn’s rings, will encircle it next spring, 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 paint-capturing 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 Abraham Lincoln stood beneath it to summon “the better angels of our nature” in 1861, the Capitol dome has since towered over Washington, which limits building heights to 130 feet. Time, however, has let water seep through hundreds of cracks, none of which are thought to have resulted from the 2011 earthquake. The water attacks cast iron, which “continues to rust and rust and rust,” said 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 recognizable symbol across the globe.” The $60 million undertaking will heal inner wounds, he said, without changing the way the dome looks from the ground.