Category Archive Wisconsin Capitol

Exclusive Preview: Our House – The Wisconsin Capitol

It’s a masterpiece of design and engineering. They wanted it to be a symbol of self rule. A very high-minded idealized notion of democracy. Designed by an American master. This was the crowning gem in his life’s work. And filled with priceless art work. It’s Wisconsin’s most valuable work of art. There’s nothing like it. It’s a state capitol that was created for all of us. I always think of it as the most public building in Wisconsin. It’s always open, 365 days out of the year. After a catastrophe ruined its predecessor. An hour after the fire starts, it’s lighting up the sky. The Capitol would face its own disaster. There were actually parts of the mosaics that leaned forward. The whole thing was at risk of crumbling down. And it would take a massive 12-year effort to save the building. The restoration of this building was important because this is a masterpiece.

This National Historic Landmark is one of the most admired capitols in the country. I’m going to discover its remarkable history, explore its grand spaces and uncover a few of its hidden secrets. This is the story of Our House: The Wisconsin Capitol. The Wisconsin State Capitol was conceived just after the turn of the century in an era of American optimism. States were building ever more grand capitols to express their success, pride and democratic ideals. If Europe’s palaces were made for monarchs, America was building them for its people. When it came time for Wisconsin to build such a palace, it would be one for the ages. Since its completion in 1917, the Wisconsin Capitol has contained the state’s four branches of government. Its symmetrical form creates a unique balance between the spaces of the Governor, Senate, Assembly and Supreme Court. Everything is equal in that building. Every aspect of government is weighted equally. No one wing is more important than the other wings. This uniformity is made possible because the Capitol is arranged in the shape known as a St. Andrews Cross. St. Andrews Cross is essentially an X. Here at our Capitol, it lines up with the points of the compass, and also the streets that are coming towards the Capitol. It’s the only capitol in the country laid out this way, making it notoriously bewildering to navigate. It’s a mirror this way at 90 degrees and it’s a mirror at 180. So, it’s inherently confusing and you can get entirely turned around and end up in a different place in the city than you intended. You can get very easily turned around, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

That Capitol’s layout creates many access points. And all of these entrances feed into a central circular area called the Rotunda. This is the Capitol’s premier public space. The Rotunda is immense in scale. Natural light pours in from skylights in the wings and the dome’s 19-foot high cathedral windows. The space is intended to draw our eyes upward, fitting for a building designed to inspire us. The Rotunda is a big part of why the Capitol attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. We call our Rotunda the living room for a reason. That’s because it is always open, 365 days out of the year, people can come in and get married her,e we have blood drives here, we have school groups here. It is one of the most public features of the state of Wisconsin. The Capitol is and was always meant to be a public building. From the time it was built, it was referred to casually as quote – The People’s House, which was a phrase that originated 100 years earlier with The White House in the middle of the 19th century. It fit the idea of how the building should be used.

Even if you look at it architecturally, there are doors everywhere. It’s meant to be an open public building. It brings people in. It invites people in, accessibility is kind of its thing. The Capitol was basically designed and placed within the cityscape to express the notion of accessibility. Many of our rooms can be reserved by people who get permits, weddings can happen here, retirement parties happen here. I myself have signed as a witness for at least two different marriage certificates just from working here for two years. Even if legislators are meeting, even if the Governor is signing a bill, it’s still open to everyone.