The Capitol

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Revised Design for Dome of U.S. Capitol, by Thomas U. Walter, 1859

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:26 -- administrator

In designing a new dome for the Capitol, Thomas U. Walter, architect for the 1850s extension of the Capitol, was inspired by three of Europe’s most famous domed buildings: St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Panthéon (Ste. Genevieve) in Paris, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. He had inspected the first two buildings during an extensive tour of Europe in 1838.

Architect of the Capitol

"Speaker's Clerk's and Reporter's Desks. Hall of Representatives," by Thomas U. Walter, watercolor and ink on paper, 1857

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:24 -- administrator

By the 1850s, Congress was outgrowing the Capitol. Architect Thomas U. Walter designed new wings for the Capitol that included much needed office space as well as larger chambers for the Senate and the House of Representatives. This imposing rostrum accommodated the House of Representative’s reporters, clerks and Speaker in three tiers. Behind was a cast-iron frontispiece that gave the rostrum a strong focal point.

Architect of the Capitol

"Details of Peristyle of Dome," by Thomas U. Walter, Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 1857

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:21 -- administrator

In order to make the dome as broad and tall as possible, the dome’s designers decided to cantilever the lower ring of columns beyond the existing rotunda walls and to drop a skirt in front to give it a visual sense of support. Consequently, the lower diameter of the new dome was about 30 feet wider than the old dome. This pleased members of Congress as well as the designers, all of whom wanted the Capitol’s new dome to be as big and as imposing as conditions allowed.

Architect of the Capitol

“Transverse Section, South Wing,” (looking East), by Thomas U. Walter, watercolor and ink on paper, 1857

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:17 -- administrator

This drawing illustrates the location of the House Chamber in the center of the south wing, which was a change from its original position at the western end. The change was ordered by Captain Montgomery C. Meigs soon after he took over as supervising engineer in 1853. Despite its relocation, the architect, Thomas U. Walter, was able to preserve the original design with its cast-iron ceiling and skylight.

Architect of the Capitol

"Details of Senate Chamber, U.S. Capitol Extension," by Thomas U. Walter, ink and watercolor on paper, 1855

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:13 -- administrator

In the 1850s, Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter designed new north and south wings for the Capitol that included much needed space for the expanding Congress. The artistic quality of Walter's draftsmanship is clearly demonstrated in this sheet showing a corner of the new Senate chamber. Mythological figures were drawn in the niches that would later be occupied by busts of early vice presidents.

Architect of the Capitol

"Details of South Wing," by Thomas U. Walter, watercolor and ink on paper, 1854

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:12 -- administrator

In the 1850s, architect Thomas U. Walter designed new north and south wings for the Capitol that included much needed space for the expanding Congress. The room designed for the Speaker of the House of Representatives (labeled “Retiring Room,” a preliminary designation) was one of the most elaborate in all of 19th century America. The cast-iron ceiling was designed with beams and panels outlined with a rich array of classical moldings and other decorations.

Architect of the Capitol

"Exterior Order. Extension of U.S. Capitol," by Thomas U. Walter, 1854

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:10 -- administrator

A good example of Thomas U. Walter's exquisite draftsmanship, this drawing illustrates the elements, proportion, and dimensions of the Capitol's exterior order. By necessity, it matched the Corinthian order already employed on the outside of the Capitol by previous architects William Thornton, B. Henry Latrobe, and Charles Bulfinch.

Architect of the Capitol

“Interior View, Library of Congress,” by Thomas U. Walter, 1852

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:09 -- administrator

On Christmas Eve 1851, the Library of Congress was gutted by a disastrous fire. Before the ashes had cooled Thomas U. Walter, the architect of the Capitol extension, was asked to supervise its reconstruction. In response, Walter designed the first room in America with an iron ceiling. The book cases and balconies were also cast iron, an inexpensive, quickly made, and, most importantly, fireproof material. The innovative room was completed in 1853, but dismantled three years after the library moved to its own building in 1897.

"Perspective of Iron Consol Supporting Ceiling," by Thomas U. Walter, 1852

Fri, 2013-04-19 15:07 -- administrator

From 1800 to 1897, the Library of Congress was housed in the U.S. Capitol. An accidental fire gutted the main reading room on December 24, 1851. Thomas U. Walter, architect for the 1850s extension of the Capitol, designed a new fireproof room with an iron and glass ceiling. This elaborate consol acted as a ceiling support. Relatively inexpensive and quickly assembled, the ironwork was decorated with gold leaf and an elaborate paint scheme.

Architect of the Capitol

Proposed Enlargement of the Capitol, by Robert Mills, ink, watercolor and ink wash on paper, ca. 1851

Fri, 2013-04-19 11:15 -- administrator

Mills drew this elevation after the Senate Committee on Public Buildings asked him to combine the best features of other designs submitted in a competition for the enlargement of the Capitol. It shows north and south wings attached directly to the ends of the old building and fronted by semi-circular porticoes. There is also a new attic story over the old building and a new dome standing on the old Rotunda walls. The interior of the new wings contained large legislative chambers, additional committee rooms, and offices. This design was later rejected.

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