Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Entry and addition to Virginia Capitol, Richmond, VA

Architect: RMJM Hillier, Philadelphia, PA; Dr. George C. Skarmeas, AIA, director of historic preservation; Sonja Bijelic, AIA, project architect; Robert Hotes, AIA, project manager; Jim Garrison, AIA, designer of entryway

Associate Architect: BCWH Architects, Richmond, VA

Construction Manager: Gilbane Christman Association, Laurel, MD, and Alexandria, VA

Architectural Historian: Calder Loth, Department of Historic Resources, Commonwealth of Virginia




Sympathetic Addition

Winner: RMJM Hillier

Temple on the Hill

By Martha McDonald

One of America's most venerable buildings, the Virginia Capitol in Richmond, VA, was designed by Thomas Jefferson and completed in 1789. Jefferson used the Maison Carrée, an ancient Roman temple in southern France as a model for the structure, making it the first public building in the country to use the Classical vocabulary to express the new American democracy. It was also the first major public building to be constructed in the U.S. following the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

After standing in its prominent position on top of a hill in Richmond, VA, for more than 200 years, the Virginia Capitol, known as the "Temple on the Hill," was beginning to show its age. It had dominated the city throughout the years, even surviving the Civil War, serving both as an inspirational building and as a working Capitol. In 2003, the Commonwealth of Virginia decided that the building should be restored and expanded. A nationwide search resulted in a decision to bring in Hillier's (now RMJM Hillier) Preservation Architecture Studio, Philadelphia, PA, to design the new addition and restore the original building.

Four years later, the $105-million project was completed and the new Capitol opened to the public in May of 2007. The project included the design and construction of a new 27,000-sq.ft. extension with a Doric temple-like entry and the restoration of the historic building to its 1908-09 appearance. The extension was placed underground to maintain the integrity of the historic "Temple on the Hill." It provides a new visitor entrance area to accommodate the increasing number of tourists that come to Richmond, projected at about one million a year. These visitors now enter through a temple-like entry designed by Jim Garrison, project architect and member of the design team.

The design of the extension and of the Classical entry to the extension was a complex process. When Dr. George Skarmeas, AIA, Lead Design and Preservation Principal of RMJM Hillier's Preservation Architecture Studio, was interviewed by the Virginia state legislature for the project, he explained that he could not present a solution for the extension without studying the building. "I think this is why we were selected," he says. "We did not come in with an answer. We came in saying it needed more study." The team then raised a series of issues to be addressed before determining the placement of the addition.

For the entry itself, the team experimented with a number of options, from a simple modern entrance, to more complex expressions, before arriving at the current Doric-style temple entrance, which is modeled after an early 19th-century example nearby at Bremo, near Richmond, where General John Cocke had built a country residence overlooking the Fluvanna River. In 1847 Cocke brought Alexander Jackson Davis in to design a small temple structure over a spring at the base of the hill. His "Temperance Temple" was modeled after the Choregic monument Thrasyllos at the base of the Acropolis in Athens, and this in turn became the model for the new entry at the Capitol in Richmond.

"We started by creating a new set of base drawings from the original HABS (Historical American Buildings Survey) field notes. Redrawing the building in a CAD format gave us several months of hands-on experience with Jefferson's Classical architecture and the subsequent additions and we developed a sense that Classical design was the correct way to go," says Jim Garrison, AIA, RMJM Hillier. "Originally I did a Beaux Arts design, but on studying the Temperance Temple, we changed direction. We also abandoned computer design and went to traditional architectural techniques using clay, cardboard and wood models. The entry was a sensitive issue in the overall project. We struggled to refine it for almost a year."

"We wanted the entry to have a Jefferson connection," says Calder Loth, senior architectural historian, Department of Historic Resources, Commonwealth of Virginia, and a key member of the peer review team who worked closely with the design team for the duration of the project. "Jim and I both thought of Bremo at about the same time. The relationship of this small building built on a hillside was based on the Thrasyllos Monument in Athens, so the new entry has good DNA."

Garrison points out that even though there were historic precedents, the new 250-sq.ft. entry is very much its own building. "The entry is larger than the Temperance Temple and we made a subtle distinction in scale. The columns are a chunky Doric style and the cornice is somewhat simplified. It's a small monumental building on its own. Our goal was to give it a strong presence against the hillside background."

The location of the entrance was selected after studying the area around the Capitol to find a site that would work with traffic flows and security concerns. Most important, however, was the idea that the new entry should provide a dignified entry to the historic Capitol and not harm the character of the setting. The new Bank St. entry set in the bottom of the hill and the underground extension fit these requirements. Made of Texas limestone, the entry uses large cubic pieces in a traditional manner, rather than a veneer. "We insisted that the entry be built in the traditional manner," says Garrison. "The stones are cubic blocks, not veneer. We had to convince the builders to leave their steel and concrete behind."

The underground extension itself is situated on a 58-degree angle to the south of the original structure. It was designed primarily by Sonja Bijelic, AIA, of RMJM Hillier. It takes visitors through security, past a gift shop and into an exhibition gallery. Committee rooms with movable walls can be opened up to create a larger space for functions and events. While it is streamlined in design, the extension is built of materials designed to coordinate and complement the historic buildings. It increases the square footage of the building by about a third, bringing the total to120,000 sq.ft.

One of the important points in the design of the addition was that it did not extend under the existing building. "Prior to our engagement on this project, other proposals had advocated an addition on the north side, with an underground portion that would have come under the original building," Skarmeas notes. "This would have cost millions of dollars and could have put the historic building at risk and required extensive underpinning. Our position was that the south side was the best choice, and that the design should come right up to the original Jefferson building, but not go under it, so there was no risk of damage to the foundation."

Another important aspect of the new entry and addition is that it is reversible. It can all be removed without damaging the original structure, should people decide in 100 years that they no longer want a visitors' area. It also maintains the integrity of the grounds, keeping the Capitol as the central focus on the hill.

Meanwhile the project also included extensive restoration of the existing historic buildings. After extensive research, it was decided to restore the Capitol to its 1909 appearance. The program called for the treatment, repair, restoration and long-term preservation of the building and for the restoration of all spaces with appropriate colors, finishes, carpet and furniture. New roofing and new heating, ventilation, air conditioning, fire alarm, fire suppression, security, communications and voting equipment were also needed.

The first order of business was to protect the building from continued water damage by replacing the roof and by removing the layers of 1904-08 stucco, a hard impermeable Portland cement-based mix, and the Tnemec paint that had been applied to the building during the 1960s renovation. These had trapped moisture within the walls causing delamination and masonry damage. "This [the Tnemec paint] was done with all good intentions," says Skarmeas, "but it actually trapped water in the building and was the cause of moisture movement within the wall system."

After the layers of paint and mix were stripped, extensive conservation, repair and repointing was required. A new hydraulic lime cement-based stucco was developed to recreate the 1909 appearance. This exterior restoration was conducted by Andy Ladygo, contracted by Evergreene Painting Studios of New York City. No evidence was found of pre-1904 stucco treatments, finishes or colors.

Also on the exterior, it was found that the original columns, wood core wrapped in brick and stucco, in the portico were in place and had been widened in the process of reinforcement during the 1904-1909 renovation. Since the modification provided adequate structural strength, it was decided to leave the columns as they were.

In the interior of the building, the architects discovered 18th-century millwork dating to the Jeffersonian period. They also found enough of the 1908-1909 decorative painting scheme to reconstruct it throughout the structure. John Canning Painting and Conservation Studios restored the decorative painting throughout the building and Evergreene Painting Studios restored the historic stucco. Ornamental plaster was supplied by Hayles & Howe Ltd. Ornamental Plasterers and historic lighting was supplied by Crenshaw Lighting, with Gary Steffy Lighting Design doing the overall lighting design.

Now repaired, restored, renovated, updated and enlarged, Richmond's Temple on the Hill is ready to serve the state and the public for at least another 200 years.  



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