August 2, 1996


Construction crews Monday hoisted and installed the floating dome foomewhat like half an eggshell, the dome is suspended from the ceiling by a spider web of structural supports.

It features an off-center oculus, which directs a strong shaft of light onto the floor below. Filtered light is also radiated from the dome through its thin meshed metal skin. Both combine to give it a floating effect.

Installing the dome was a tricky task. It was first assembled on the ground and then hoisted with ropes and pulleys. After it was secured, a worker dangled from ropes inside the dome to apply finishing plaster.

Rick Sundberg of Olson Sundberg Architects designed the dome as part of an elegant decompression chamber for light and sound as visitors enter the museum from bustling Capitol Hill outside. The oculus will serve as an axis point for the museum; standing under it, visitors will see all the major galleries and rooms in a single glance.

Visitors will be drawn to the front of the museum by a water feature which follows them up to the entrance. They will then pass through handp to the entrance. They will then pass through handmade brass and wood doors designed by Sundberg. Once inside, the light beam from the oculus will direct them toward the museum's information desk.

The rotunda is part of a $12 million investment to renovate and expand the museum by 12,000 square feet. A large chunk of the funds were used to buy adjoining property.

Other features being added include a cafe and education wing at the north end of the museum, administrative offices and archival storage space on a second level above existing space, and an outdoor courtyard with moss garden designed by Richard Haag & Associates.

The museum says construction is on schedule to meet its Feb. 8, 1997 The contractor is Baugh Construction.