This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
The third experiment, which filled up the space between the columns of the prostyle, went to prove that not even reducing the space of the room, and giving a close flat surface to this portion of it, benefitted the hearing any. Sound travels with great rapidity, (1,142 feet in a second of time,) and it is not always the smallest rooms that are the best to hear and speak in. It must be recollected that it is not the size but the form of the room that constitutes it a good or bad speaking and hearing room. I could construct a room which should hold five or ten thousand persons, in which the voice in a common tone, would be distinctly heard at the most distant points in it. I have already had a room built which has held four thousand persons, where every word of the speaker was as well heard at the extreme distance as immediately near. I could take the Rotunda, which is now a perfect Babel of sounds, and make it as perfect a speaking room as there is in the world.
I shall now close by giving a brief description of the drawings herewith submitted.
Plan No. 1 exhibits the Hall as it noiv is, with the seats and desks of the members, and the Speaker's chair, in the position they now hold.
Plan No. 2 exhibits the Hall as proposed to be arranged, with a view to realize the benefits promised thereby, not only increasing the facilities of hearing and speaking, but adding to the comfortable accommodation of the House, providing ample space for any increase of members, even to the number 300, and retaining all the desks with the seats.
Associated with this plan, it is proposed, 1st, to make a change in the space under the galleries, taking in one portion of this space on each side of the Hall, for the use of the House, as private lobbies or conference rooms. Opening the space between the columns into these rooms, so as to get the benefit of the large windows here, and thus adding much to the comfort of the Hall both in respect to light and air.
It will be seen that, by a new arrangement of the remaining space, and making a stair way up into the angular spaces above, more useful accommodations will be afforded than are now had.
For the better lighting of the Hall, it is proposed to open all the attic windows to the south under the prostyle, (now closed up).
Some accommodations for lady visitors have been desired in galleries appropriated for their use, separated from the common galleries, and having private or distinct entrances to the same. This plan contemplates making such a provision, by dividing off a portion at each end of the present galleries, and either using the stair ways that now lead to these galleries, at the south end of the building, or constructing new stair-ways upon a more enlarged scale, which may be constituted the principal entrances into the Hall.
The present entrance into the Hall does not comport with the dignity of the room, as it is both dark and circuitous. The ample space within the projecting blocks against which the galleries terminate, allows two grand stair-cases to be constructed which would be well lighted, and, opening into the private lobbies of the House, would be a great convenience to the members.
All which is respectfully submitted by, gentlemen, yours, etc.
The Hon, the Committee of Public Buildings.
Mr. L. [Latrobe] was fully justified in selecting the horse-shoe or semicircular form for the new hall, from the fact that when the French Chamber of Deputies resolved upon the erection of a new hall for debate, they appointed a committee composed of the most celebrated architects of France to inquire into the subject, and report upon the best form of a room for legislative business; and who after ^examining the largest rooms in Paris, and the most celebrated buildings of antiquity, unanimously recommended the horse-shoe or semicircular form, surmounted by a very flat dome ; which was accordingly executed, and has given every satisfaction. As I have stated before, the hall of the Chamber of Deputies is said to be one of the finest speaking and hearing rooms known. But the Chamber of Deputies was so plain a room that Mr. L., no doubt, thought from the success of the last J?all he built, (the elliptical,) which was enriched by a splendid colonnade circling the room, that he might circle this new hall also with a similar colonnade ; but at the result he must have been disappointed, if he ever saw the room after it was occupied by the House—tor Mr. L. settled in New Orleans, where he deceased soon after, to the great loss of the profession.
I have given the elliptical form to the new hall of the House, which is that adopted for the hall erected for the first Congress, which sat in Washington in 1800. This room was found so favorable for the action of the voice in speaking and hearing, that, when the permanent hall (the first being but a temporary building) was ordered to be erected, Mr. Jefferson, who was charged with the selection of the plan, chose the same form for the new all; and it was accordingly erected and finished in this general form.
On Motion of Mr. Mitchell of Md., the House resolved on February 22, 1830:
That the following resolutions of the Congress of the United States, unanimously adopted on the 23d December, 1799, and the message of President Adams, of the 8th January, 1800,* to Congress, respecting the entombment of the remains of General George Washington in this Capitol, be referred to a select committee, and that the said committee be authorized to report by bill or otherwise.
Mr. Mitchell, as Chairman of this Committee, made a report which said :
Committee Room, March 2, 1830.