Some of you may or may not be aware that the Washington Capital Building has been undergoing a significant renovation, with the addition of the new Capital visitors Center. The center is the largest addition that has ever been made to the building, however all that one can really see of the project are the two massive skylights in the forecourt in front of the building.
The visitors center came about after a gunman killed two Capitol police officers in 1998. However much of the original design was scrapped after 9/11. It went from being a modest plan to a highly secure five acre subterranean complex.
One must admit that the facility is a beautiful piece of work. There is a grand lobby, food court, shops, public washrooms, a large food court and a history exhibition. Very little expense has been spared and rooms are well appointed. There are a number of expansive entrance halls and the renovation is an excellent melding of the modern treatment given to the center while still respecting the original structure. The renovation has also restored the original 1824 sandstone facade, which was mostly hidden behind drywall when the East front was extended 32.5 feet by the 1958-62 renovation work.
The building has been recognised by the Washington Building Congress with a number of 2008 Craftsmanship Awards and the interior is has been done very well.
The new visitors center however has a number of other features that in some way are symbolic of a nation that has suffered a number of high profile blows to its feelings of safety and security and is hunkering down. The way that visitors will now enter the building is rather emblematic of this shift. In the past visitors would approach the capitol much the way any other law maker would, with a walk up the East Front Plaza through the Columbus Doors and into the rotunda. Visitors had an immediate feeling of being in, and a part of the Capitol, travelling on the same level as the law makers who do the nations work in the building. When the new visitors center opens visitors are no longer able to walk right up and into the building but instead descend into the new center by entering through state of the art security checkpoints that are removed from the Capitol building itself.
There are a number of other features that the visitor will never see, a new network of restricted access tunnels for both staffers and vehicles. Needless to say security has played a big factor in the redesign and the visitor will no doubt be aware of it. One only has to look up at the bomb proof skylights, (which almost didnt’ make it into the final design due to security concerns) to see the Capitol Dome crossed with a metal grid that on some level, whether conscious or not will remind the visitor that this is a nation securing itself.
But these are the times we are living in…
There are plenty of photos after the first link