Capitol Hill Restoration Society

Architect of the Capitol – Membership Meeting

Posted on June 16th, 2015

The guest speaker for the Annual Membership Meeting on June 15, 2015 was Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA, LEED AP, Architect of the Capitol. Photo Gallery (coming soon)

Always an entertaining and informative speaker, Mr. Ayers brought us behind the scenes on work being done on the Capitol Dome and other areas on the Hill campus. He showed many colorful slides showing the big picture of the work, and close-up details.MMAOCdomeelevation06152015ldj

Some of the highlights of his presentation:CapitolDomeScaffoldingMM06052015

Capitol Dome

  • The dome work will be finished in time for the scaffolding to be down before the next presidential inauguration.
  • This is the first major renovation of the dome in 50 years, and the first complete renovation since the dome was built during the Civil War.
  • The scaffolding alone weighs 1.1 million pounds. That’s too much weight for the Capitol roof, so the scaffolding is actually hanging from the Dome itself.
  • Over 1,300 cracks in the cast iron are being repaired.
  • Over 20 layers of paint have been removed, much of it lead paint. That’s one of the reasons why you see the white sheeting over various portions of the scaffolding – to contain the lead paint so it can be sent through long tubes down to the ground and then disposed of properly.
  • Another reason for the sheeting is to protect the workers from the elements and, during the winter, to contain the heat that’s blown in. Once all the layers of paint are removed, the cast iron needs to be coated within 8 hours or it flash rusts. In the winter the area being painted needs to be heated above a certain temperature or it won’t adhere.
  • The method being used to repair the cracks uses pins as filler. The pins basically stitch the cracks shut.
  • The work is done at night and on weekends so as not to disturb the work of Congress.
  • Soon, the interior of the Rotunda will be closed off to install scaffolding all the way up to the top so interior work can begin, once the outside cracks are repaired and there’s no more chance for water damage.

Cannon Building

We also heard about the ten-year project to repair and restore the Cannon House Office Building. The building has been divided into four sections, with each section taking two years, plus a year at each end to set up and finish up. During each two-year span, members of Congress in a particular wing will have their offices in either the Longworth or Rayburn Buildings and Committee staff and others are being moved offsite to make room in those buildings. The elected members of Congress need to remain in those other two buildings to be close to the House floor for votes.

Capitol Power Plant

The Capitol Power Plant (CPP) burns natural gas as its primary fuel source. CPP has reduced its use of coal from 56% in 2007 to about 4% in 2014. If the cogeneration project is approved, coal use will drop to zero. Cogeneration will allow the power plant to generate steam and electricity in an environmentally friendly and highly efficient manner, generating enough electricity to run itself. (The buildings on Capitol Hill will still use electricity provided by Pepco.) In the last eight years, due to efficiency improvements and energy reduction efforts, the CPP has reduced its annual fuel use by 15%.

After his presentation, Mr. Ayers answered questions from the audience on topics including parity of the flowers on the House and Senate sides (he said he tries very hard to be even-handed!), more details on the stitching method of repairing cracks, if the west side of the Capitol is painted before inaugurations (not especially for that event, but the sandstone is occasionally painted), if the work on the dome will help with earthquake readiness, and many more.

Mr. Ayers said he loves speaking to CHRS, and promised to come back again soon. We look forward to it!

The event was held at the National Community Church theatre space on Barracks Row. As required in the bylaws, the results of the recent officer and board elections were announced.

Reported by Lisa Dale Jones