The Capitol dome, a symbol of American democracy and a world-renowned architectural icon, literally will be under wraps soon as part of an extensive two-year repair and restoration project.
Beginning next month scaffolding is expected to be erected around the entire structure — from the base of the Statue of Freedom at its tip down to the dome's base — to aid workers in fixing more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies due to age and weather. The scaffolding will be lit at night during the project, similar to the Washington Monument.
Scaffold towers and bridging also will be constructed on the west side of the Capitol to help move materials to the work areas.
Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers called the project "critical" to save the aging dome, which hasn't had a complete restoration since 1959-1960.
"From a distance the dome looks magnificent, thanks to the hard work of our employees," he said. "On closer look, under the paint, age and weather have taken its toll and the [Architect of the Capitol] needs to make repairs to preserve the dome."
Inside the Capitol, a white canopy system in the shape of a doughnut will be installed in the Rotunda to protect the public from any falling debris during repairs.
The majority of work on the $60 million project will be conducted at night and weekends. The Capitol will remain open for business and for visitors, though dome tours will be halted until work is finished.
Because the Capitol dome is predominately made of cast iron, exposure to rain, snow, sleet and sun have caused rusting while weakening its protective paint covering. Decorative elements adorning the dome's exterior also are rusting, and in some cases falling off.
And without the repairs, famed artwork in the Rotunda — including the Apotheosis of Washington and the Frieze of American History — are at significant risk of damage due to water leaks, the Architect of the Capitol says.
Restoration of stone and cast iron at the base of the dome was completed last month.
Updates on the restoration and more information about the Capitol dome can be found at www.aoc.gov/dome or by following AOC on Twitter at @USCapitol.