America gets its dome back

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Photographs from the Flickr site of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol.

It has been disconcerting if not downright depressing to see the dome of the United State Capitol shrouded in scaffolding these past two years. Ditto the Washington Monument when it was being repaired. Unlike the great obelisk, no calls to keep the dome cloaked as a work of “art” have been heard, so far as I know, thank goodness. But shhh! The swamp has not yet been drained, so you can never be too careful.

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The Obama administration, working with the Office of the Architect of the Capitol and the General Services Administration, deserves kudos for keeping this project under budget and on time, especially with the Inauguration of the next president upcoming.

The U.S. Capitol Dome Restoration Is Complete,” in Architect, the journal of the American Institute of Architects, is a matter-of-fact account of the work. Since the AIA is among those who would probably applaud if Obama had instead proposed to replace the old dome with something more edgy, one can only hope that the authorsĀ  of the Architect piece, Chelsea Blahut and Wanda Lau, are not in their editor’s doghouse for playing it too straight.

I wish I had at hand my copy of the late Henry Hope Reed’s masterful volume on the art and architecture of the Capitol. Alas, it is AWOL, hiding in our basement. So I will quote our first president from the architecture primer Architecture in America: A Battle of Styles, co-edited by the great Henry Reed. On July 23, 1792, President Washington, at Mount Vernon, wrote a letter to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia as early plans for a capitol were being discussed. He wrote: “The Dome, which is suggested as an Addition to the center of the edifice, would, in my opinion, give a beauty and grandeur to the pile.”

Ah, with its dome lovingly restored, the pile is safe, at least for now.

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About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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