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.
Of all these different suggestions, I am certain, the Committee would be pleased to have your opinion, and would rather converse and explain, than write. Please to inform me how soon you could come down.
Yours, most respectfully,
M. St. Clair Clarke,
Clerk Ho. of Reps. U. S.
Philadelphia, Sept. 12th, 1826.
Matthew St. Clair Clarke, Esq.
Sir: It will be out of my power to visit Washington during the present month. When I examined the Hall of Representatives, in July last, I came to the conclusion, that no alteration could be effectively made to correct the reverberation of the voice in that room, except by the removal of the dome. This may be properly done, by the construction of a flat ceiling, of lath and plaster, over the whole area, upon a level with the cornice of the room. For the sake of light, the glass lantern should be continued to the ceiling, and be made to occupy a much larger diameter than it now does. I am aware, however, that this plan would affect the proportions of the room; but these may be retained, in a great degree," by any skilful artist, who could, by painting the flat ceiling, represent a dome, nearly as perfect as the real one.
The expedients you mention, as having been suggested, are all objectionable, and would have but a very partial effect, in removing the great cause of the resonnance. The glass cover would be difficult and expensive to construct; and, when done, would form a very unsightly object: To the eye, the glass and its supports would distort the compartments of the dome, and produce a very disagreeable effect. In a few years it would become opake, and completely coated with dust.
To take down the galleries, and have the auditory on a level with the floor of the Hall, would have the effect of increasing the difficulty of hearing, by opening a greater space through which the voice would be spent and broken, by the intervention of the semicircular screen of columns, which support the dome.
To raise the floor to the level of the logia behind the Speaker's chair, would be, in fact, simply equivalent to lowering the ceiling a few feet, which would only serve to make the echo, or return of the voice, more sudden upon the speaker or hearer. While the great cause of the reverberation exists, viz: the dome, nothing short of its removal can be relied on, as a corrective to the present difficulty of speaking and being heard.
Yours, very respectfully,
William Strickland, A rchitect and Engineer,
The Hon. Henry Clay,
Chairman of the Committee to whom was referred the alteration of the Hall of Representatives. Sir : Without attempting to trouble you with a general application of the laws or doctrines of sound to the various forms of rooms, or particularly to the one under consideration, . I will simply state my opinion of the cause of echo in the Hall, to be principally owing to the reflection of the voice from so large a portion of unbroken spherical surface contained in the ceiling of the dome. The effect has been invariably observed in all circular rooms having vaulted ceilings; and were the side walls of the Hall Jormed with a plain circular surface, like the ceiling, and not intercepted by the present screen of columns, the reverberation would be proportionably increased.
The remedy which, in my opinion, can be successfully resorted to in this instance, is, to break up the plain surface of the dome by the introduction of numerous deeply sunken pannels bound by raised stiles or margins. A practical illustration of the efficacy of this method, in preventing the echo of sounds, may be witnessed at any time in the Senate Chamber, a room which nearly corresponds in plan with the Hall of Representatives, except in the painted pannels of the dome, which in that of the Senate Chamber are real and profuse.
One other, and a more effectual plan, may be had by the suspension of a flat ceiling of lath and plaster over the whole arena of the Hall within the columns, and upon a level with the stone cornice, or springing line of the dome ; but I hesitate in recommending its adoption, convinced as I am that the construction of a level ceiling would materially injure the symmetry and proportions of the room, and that no single item of supportable inconvenience should be redressed in this manner, by the expense of so much architectural harmony and beauty.
I would, however, beg leave, Sir, to suggest to you the propriety of trying the effect of opening the dome by a series of large pannels, with small, but proportionably raised margins or stiles, as the only resource left to render the room suitable for the purposes of legislation, without injury to its well proportioned features.
Very respectfully submitted by your obedient servant,
Washington, October 31, 1826.
To the Honorable the Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and A ttorney General:
The subscriber, present Architect of the Capitol of the United States, respectfully presents the following report:
Mr. Strickland visited the city on the 1st of July last, when, in company with the subscriber, he examined the plan and construction of the Hall, when the difficulties that had been complained of were pointed out to him. Not being able to remain in the city longer than one day at that time, Mr. Strickland promised to take the subject into consideration, and to communicate the result, which he did in his letter of September the 12th. He also, on a repetition of the invitation, again visited the city on the 21st October. At this time, the subscriber laid before Mr. Strickland the original plans and sections of the Hall, with copies of all the investigations of the various committees who, in different years, had been appointed to consider the subject, and the several reports of the Architect made to such committees, containing suggestions of alterations, and reasonings thereon; also various papers from other scientific men, whom the committees had been able to consult. Mr. Strickland remained several days, and examined all these papers fully,* and formed a report of his opinion, as given in his letter addressed to the Secretary of State. In this report Mr. Strickland agrees with the report of the Architect, made in 1822, that the only effectual remedy against the reverberation of sounds would be a flat ceiling ; he expresses his preference that it should be made solid and permanent, with painted or stucco ornaments ; but, as such a ceiling would reduce, perhaps injuriously, the cubic volume of air in the room, and impair the beauty of its form and proportion, he suggests the breaking of the present smooth painted surface of the dome into deeply sunk caissons, in the manner of the ceiling of the Senate Chamber and of the Rotundo. In addition to this report, it was agreed that it would be of advantage to fill solidly under the floor of the circular space outside of the bar of the Hall.