Preserving this most historic icon required extensive options to be considered to ensure a genuine restoration while providing for modern office functionality for the Legislative and Governor offices, while also expanding and improving the visitor experience.
Quinn Evans Architects served as associated architect with Hillier Architecture to complete renovations and an underground addition to the Virginia State Capitol. This building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, still serves as the center of Legislative activities for the Commonwealth. As the local architect, QEA, worked closely with the House of Delegates, Senate, and Governor's aides to establish the programming requirements and space planning for all office areas and support spaces within the historic Capitol building and the new underground extension. We produced the furniture specifications, managed the bidding process, and assisted in the coordination of the furniture installation. The resulting design is a classic interior that is respectful of the historic architecture yet supports modern office functions. QEA also coordinated an extensive restoration effort for the historic furnishings and dais in both the House and Senate Chambers. That process included working with a local wood conservator and a technology consultant to ensure that the integrity and beauty of the furniture was maintained while accommodating a state-of-the-art voting system.
A National Historic Landmark
The Virginia Capitol is a National Historic Landmark designed and
constructed between 1785-89 by America’s most significant architect, Thomas Jefferson. The first major public building constructed in the United States after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Capitol was also the first building to introduce the Classical vocabulary as the architectural expression of the new Democracy; it is modeled after the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, an ancient Roman temple, in southern France.
The Capitol has undergone numerous renovations since the 18th century, the most notable from 1904 and 1909, when John Kevan Peebles, one of Virginia’s most respected architects, added two symmetrical wings for the Senate and the House. The monumental stairs of the south Portico, as Jefferson had envisioned, were also added at this time.
By the end of the 20th century, the Capitol had fallen into disrepair with building systems failures, deteriorated materials and finishes, and significant moisture intrusion and migration placing at risk important spaces, materials, artifacts and occupants. It was also ill equipped to handle the needs of a working General Assembly and lacked visitor amenities to accommodate thousands of visitors annually.
Preserving the Temple on the Hill
Following a national search, the design team was selected to lead the restoration of the Jeffersonian building, create a modern working environment for the General Assembly, and add visitor amenities and much needed program space. Preserving the iconic image of Jefferson’s “Temple on the Hill” was of utmost importance. Archival research, state of the art fabric analysis technology (non-destructive testing techniques such as thermal imaging, infrared, ground penetrating radar, metal detection and ultrasounds), as well as carefully selective probing and destructive examination provided valuable information to understand the building.
New Visitor Center
Perhaps the most significant design decision was the placement of the extension/visitor’s center. The team explored several options, and after a careful investigation of the structure, site topography and the building’s historic connection to the city, it was determined that an addition from the south would have the least impact on the building, it would be fully reversible, and would preserve the iconic image of Jefferson’s ‘Temple on the Hill’ for all visitors.
The 27,000 SF underground extension opens off Bank Street with a small public plaza, set at an angle to the street and the Capitol. The Classical style entry way, with Doric columns and simplified entablature, is modeled after the Temple of Temperance at Bremo (1847), designed by noted architect Alexander Jackson Davis, which is itself modeled after the Thrasyllos monument in Athens, at the base of the Acropolis.
After entering, the new Extension leads visitors through a series of gradually ascending modern spaces, culminating at a rotunda that connects the Extension to the original building and foreshadows the experience of arriving at the most significant space in the historic building – the original Jeffersonian rotunda.