Amending the Capitol

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Virginia Tech


Whereas, The United States Capitol Building has long been an iconic symbol of the American government and democracy worldwide. The building's design centers on the famous dome, designed by Thomas U. Walter, was completed during the American Civil War in 1863. Frederick Law Olmsted added a large terrace to the building as a part of his landscape in 1892. Olmsted's terrace was the last major addition to the Architecture of the Capitol Building and the icon of American government has been largely maintained since the turn of the 20th century, essentially frozen in time and symbolism. Yet the country has not been idle since the 1890's. The Capitol Building is a living symbol of American government and should therefore change with the American government.

Whereas, One example of stalled symbols of change is the number of representatives in the House. This number, 435, has remained unchanged since 1913, despite the population more than tripling. The idea to expand the number of representatives gives the opportunity to update the House of Representatives for the modern era both structurally and architecturally through the addition of a new house chamber to the Capitol Building, just as Walter did over 150 years ago.

Whereas, the Capitol Building represents a history of slavery, denied rights, and theft of Native lands and culture just as much as liberty, freedom, and self-determination of government. The lack of new construction means the Capitol has not been able to represent the last century of American history and progress from granting women the right to vote to its role in WWII to the rise of the internet, all monumentally important moments that changed the United States forever into a country and culture that deserves representation in our Capitol.

Now, therefore be it resolved that this thesis proposes a new chamber for the House of Representatives to redefine the architecture of the Capitol Building and symbolize the century of history which has yet to be represented in the Capitol. The design process began with a detailed look into the history of the Capitol alongside the history of congress. The symbols embedded in the marble were products of their time, as were the laws and the representatives.

Resolved that this project also questions the present and future of Congress. As much as the building serves as symbol and historical icon, it is also a working office building for the United States congress. Given the precipitous fall in congress' productivity over the past decades, the opportunity to provide a new building for the House also is an opportunity provide congress with a more functional space knowing their current chamber was built without electric lights. This new building aims to improve the capabilities of congress while being a symbol for the nation.

Resolved that this thesis is about the idea of representing change. The nature of a democratic government is one of changing ideas and laws, and this project seeks to have the Capitol Building embody that aspect. Thomas Jefferson himself is known for saying rejecting change is like we "require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when he was a boy". Congress needs a new coat.



Symbolism, Government, Democracy, Capitol, Washington, DC, Congress, House, Representatives, Chamber