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Palladio Awards

Project: Washington State Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Architect: SRG Partnership, Inc., Seattle, WAl Ralph Belton, AIA, principal in charge

Preservation Architect & Engineer: Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, Architecture & Engineering, PC, Albany, NY; Mark Thaler, AIA, principal in charge

Structural Engineer: Swenson Say Faget, Seattle, WA

Exterior Stone Consultant: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. Seattle, WA

General Contractors: M.A. Mortenson, Bellevue, WA; Merrill COntractors, Vancouver, WA; Perini Corp., Framingham, MA

 

 

Awards
Restoration & Renovation

Winner: Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, Architecture & Engineering, PC

Legislative Beauty

By Martha McDonald

Designed by Wilder & White of New York City and built between 1922 and 1928, the Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia, WA, has been described by Henry Russell Hitchcock as the "climax" of the American Renaissance of state capitol construction. It sits on a hilltop overlooking the southern tip of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains and is said to be the state capitol that is closest in design to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

One of the distinguishing features of this grand, four-story, 300,000-sq.ft. structure is its 287-ft.-tall central circular drum tower with a dome and cupola, the fourth tallest masonry dome in the world. "The first three are St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London and St. Isaac's in St. Petersburg, Russia," says Patricia McLain, project director, Washington Department of General Administration.

The brick-and-stone building is adorned with hand-carved friezes and is the centerpiece of a group of buildings that make up the capitol. Among the many outstanding features are the six cast-bronze doors – each weighing five tons and each bearing a different scene from Washington's past – that open into a sumptuous interior. A large chandelier designed and built by Louis Comfort Tiffany hangs in the central rotunda and polished marble and decorative plaster are found throughout the building.

Time had taken a toll on the building and by 1999 it had fallen into a state of disrepair. The state was planning a 5½-year restoration of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, when the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake hit the area on February 28, 2001. (M.A. Mortenson actually signed documents naming them contractor/construction manager on that morning.)

The earthquake caused considerable damage, making the building unsafe. Plaster delaminated, lights fell and the 33-million-lb. dome was actually lifted and rotated, leaving its unsupported stone columns out of plumb by up to six inches. Forced to evacuate, lawmakers decided to accelerate a complete restoration along with seismic upgrades and earthquake repairs. They also asked for the work to be done in a shorter timeframe – 2½ years. The complete restoration included the scope of the work prior to the earthquake plus earthquake repair.

The $120-million restoration, led by SRG Partnership of Seattle, WA, and Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, Architecture & Engineering, PC, (EYP) of Albany, NY, included $16 million in earthquake repairs and has put the building back in order, restored its historical integrity and added new modern systems. "The combination of earthquake repairs with the restoration and renovation added to the complexity of the project," McLain notes. "It was both an opportunity and a challenge to bring the building up to 21st-century standards, add access for people with disabilities and achieve sustainability goals while maintaining the sensitivity to the historic fabric of the building. EYP was able to incorporate energy conservation and sustainability principles and integrate accessibility. When it was finished, all of the historic elements were preserved, yet all of the modern amenities are included."

"The Legislative Building is a truly unique building in Washington," says Ralph Belton, AIA, principal in charge, SRG Partnership. "A 75-year-old building is very old by Washington standards. The basic challenge was to introduce up-to-date seismic, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire sprinkler and communication/data systems into a building that was built in a time when air conditioning didn't exist and when office equipment was a manual typewriter and 40 phones.

"All of this needed to be done without affecting the historic fabric of the building. The careful insertion of new systems into the building is the opposite of how we build new buildings, so it was a challenge to the builders. We also required trade skills for plaster, painting and stonework that aren't widely available. The design of this project required a much more collaborative process that included the builders from the beginning." Throughout the project, the ornate marble, bronze and oak finishes were protected and workmen were educated before they were allowed into the building.

"One of the biggest challenges was getting all of those systems into the building," agrees Mark Thaler, AIA, principal in charge, EYP. "Fortunately, the columns around the building actually provided a shading factor that cut down on the needs of the cooling system. Also, there were some existing pathways that we could utilize." An interesting feature of the building is that the original design took ventilation into consideration. In fact, the original mechanical systems were "intricately interwoven into the structure," according to an article in the November, 2004, issue of Columbia Magazine, A Legislative Building Commemorative Issue, by Christopher Tavener of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott. EYP was able to take advantage of the original systems when incorporating modern mechanicals.

In addition, more than 12 miles of new hydronic piping and four miles of new heating ducts were installed behind walls and in ceilings. Ten miles of new plumbing piping were tucked behind the walls. Concrete floors were opened so that more than 1,000 miles of new wiring for computers, phones and wireless technology could be installed.

Late in the project, it was discovered that some of these ducts were wrapped in asbestos. Mortenson solved this problem by lining the ducts with epoxy, rather than removing the asbestos. Removal would have cost an estimated $2.4 million and would have delayed the project by four months. At the same time, embedded roof and balcony drains and piping could not be removed and replaced without causing significant damage to the historic sandstone façade, so they were also lined with epoxy to restore them.

In one example of using space wisely, EYP inserted conduits in the clay tiles in the ceiling instead of lowering the ceiling. "The clay tiles were hollowed out so the space could be used for pathways for new fire protection systems and electrical conduit," says McLain. "This meant that the ceilings didn't have to be lowered to make room for the conduits. EYP found many ways to fit the new systems into the existing structure of the building. They were able to tuck new work into the building so you can't see it. It's seamless."

Stabilizing the 16 exterior columns at the base of the dome that had shifted during the earthquake was the first phase of the project. Because it was impossible to put them back into position, the architects and engineers devised a solution that involved drilling 60 ft. through the gutter of the dome, the center of each column and the base of the dome to anchor the columns. Hollow, reinforcing steel was inserted into these holes and more than one million pounds of concrete were pumped in to tie the dome, columns and base together.

In addition, fiber wrap was placed behind ornamental marble paneled walls to keep them from delaminating and any damaged stonework, masonry or plaster finishes were either replaced or repaired. The building is now reinforced to withstand an earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8.2.

"We all collaborated on how to strengthen the building," says Belton. "Mike Wright, the engineer with Swenson Say Faget [Seattle, WA] modeled the building on the computer, using finite element analysis, and he told us the columns needed to be pinned in place. So we brainstormed and came up with the idea of drilling the columns and adding cement and then we found someone who had experience with that kind of drilling." During the drilling, the architects and engineers noticed that water and brick dust was pouring out of the holes. To solve this problem, grout was poured into the holes whenever they reached a joint. This sealed the leak and they were able to drill through the grout. "It was interesting," he adds. "Many people worked together to make this work."

The building also needed an egress route that met code requirements. Instead of adding new stairways, EYP improved and protected the existing egress system by enclosing the north rotunda stairs in a fire-resistant glass and bronze wall. This solution maintains the visual openness of the stairway while also providing safe exit in case of a fire. "After we had a timed-egress study done by Rolf Jensen & Associates of Chicago, we took two stairwells that were unenclosed and provided glass enclosures," says Thaler. "They are fire-rated glass in bronze-finished steel structures. This kept the openness of the stairs and created a fire-rated egress that would bring people all the way through the building."

Securing the five-ton "Angels of Mercy" Tiffany chandelier posed another problem. Originally the engineer recommended steel cable to reinforce the 101-ft.-long chain holding the chandelier 25 ft. above the rotunda. However, they realized that a typical steel safety cable wasn't pliable enough to be woven into the original chain. The engineer, Mike Wright, an avid sailor and ship builder, recommended kevlar rope, the same material used in sailboat rigging, and this proved to be both strong enough and flexible enough to hold the chandelier without being obtrusive. In fact, it worked so well that kevlar rope was used to secure all of the major chandeliers in the building.

A number of specialty contractors were brought in to work on the project, including Master Millwork of Puyullup, WA; Architectural Grille of Brooklyn, NY, and Architectural Reproductions of Seattle, WA. Pioneer Masonry Restoration of Seattle, WA, repaired the exterior stone; Western Tile and Marble, Bellevue, WA, repaired the interior stone work, and D. L. Henricksen, Tacoma, WA, repaired the extensive plaster damage. The decorative painting was restored by EverGreene Painting Studios, Oak Park, IL.

This project became the first state building in the country to apply LEED standards to the preservation of a state capitol. The design team documented the challenges of applying LEED standards to historic preservation and met with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington, DC, to encourage the development of specific standards for historic preservation. The primary focus of these efforts included reusing the existing building, improved energy efficiency and recycling building materials. For example, Alaska Tokeen marble salvaged from the renovation of Smith Tower in Seattle, WA, (once the tallest building west of the Mississippi) was used to replace marble damaged by the earthquake in the legislative building. In addition, 85% of the construction waste, more than 8,000 tons of demolished material, including wood, concrete, paper, bricks, dirt, metal and drywall, were recycled. "Typically, 25% is recycled or reused," says McLain. "In other instances, EYP and Western harvested marble from one room and used it in another."

Another energy-conservation facet of the project was the addition of energy-efficient lighting, compact fluorescent lamps that last eight to ten times longer than conventional light bulbs. In addition, photovoltaic cells were incorporated into the rooftop. They generate enough electricity to light the dome at night. "This is the largest array of photovoltaic cells on any state capitol in the country," Thaler notes. "It was installed so it is only visible from the air."

"It's even larger than the array of photovoltaic cells on the White House," McLain adds, "and it's totally integrated into the building facade. We wanted to show people that it is possible to use solar energy on an historic building, to be a model for others."

One change in the floor plan was opening up some of the areas on the first floor. "This transformed what people called the basement into a lighter, more open space and provided much-needed public gathering space," says Belton, "including an area for visiting school children."

Essentially, the building was taken apart, and infrastructure, safety and security issues were resolved. Then as it was put back together, historic materials were restored or repaired. "Everyone felt indebted to the original architects," says McLain. "They left us a magnificent building and they set high standards of craftsmanship. All of the workers were inspired by their work and rose to the occasion."

"The building has a vintage look with high-tech equipment just below the surface," Belton adds. The restored landmark reopened to the public in December of 2004 and is once again a source of pride for the citizens of the state.  

 

 

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