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B a c k p a g e Inside the Dome An insider’s view of the State Capitol reveals elegant structure and an unnerving ascent by Art Levy 112 t e x a s a r c h i t e c t ture. Elijah Myers designed a double-dome system where 50 feet of space separates the inner and outer hemispheres, with tension rods splayed out between small exterior windows and interior walkways. Atop the inner dome yet another precarious staircase ascends to the cupola. Despite the dizzying clamber upward, the drive for conquest supersedes, that eternal human impulse illustrated by graffiti dating back to 1936 that adorns the inside walls. The hidden elements are colossal but elegant, a graceful skeleton giving form to Austin’s crown jewel. You can’t help but feel small when climbing through the structure. But once you’re outside, standing on the curving balcony at the base of the cupola, with the weight of the dome beneath your shoes and the Goddess of Liberty perched above your head, the enormity is intoxicating. When he’s not guiding tours of the State Capitol, Art Levy writes radio scripts for Texas Music Matters on KUT 90.5 FM in Austin. See photos from his tour on TSA’s blog 9 / 1 0 2 0 1 0 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS TX-3326 As a tour guide at the Texas State Capitol, I’m constantly asked, “Are we going to go up to the very top?” The answer is always an unfortunate “No.” It pains me to have to quash such naked curiosity. We all cherish the thought of scaling and exploring heights, from a kid climbing trees to the adventurer conquering the tallest mountains. So it’s only natural that people should ask that question within five minutes of starting a tour. Skip the history, please: we want to go up there. Not too long ago, the Capitol conducted regular dome tours, but after the completion of a major renovation in 1995, accessibility and safety concerns shut the tours down for good. Yet in May, I had the opportunity to join an exclusive “tour guides only” dome tour scheduled right before another restoration project would close access to the dome through the rest of this year. Just getting up there is quite an ordeal, requiring elevators and tight, creaky staircases that spiral 218 feet above the rotunda floor to a small balcony. Another staircase reveals the concealed assembly of the struc-

Texas Architect Sept/Oct 2010: Design Awards

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