Built from 1867-1899, the New York State Capitol in Albany is a National Historic Landmark. Thomas Fuller originally designed the Capitol, but in 1875, H.H. Richardson and Leopold Eidlitz were recruited to complete the building. Richardson concentrated on the west and south sides while Eidlitz designed the east and north sides including the Gothic Revival Assembly Chamber and the Assembly Parlor, two of the most important nineteenth century interiors in the United States.
During the second half of the 20th century, pressure for office space, modern environmental systems, and changes in architectural sensibility caused many unfortunate changes. Walls were furred out and dropped ceilings built to accommodate HVAC and lighting. Mezzanines were built under soaring vaults to provide offices and arched doorways were blocked. The Viewing Galleries, built for the public to observe Assembly proceedings, were walled off from the Chamber and used for offices and copy rooms. The Assembly Chamber windows were fitted with milky glass, making it impossible to see out. The building became introverted and uninviting to the public and the Assembly Chamber lost its views of the city of Albany.
Hierarchical progressions, fostered symmetries, orientation to city views and natural light and air are significant features of this late 19th century building and the ill considered mid 20th century alterations had profoundly undermined the clarity and beauty of the spaces. Our focus in all the projects we designed in the building was to reassert the building's fundamental qualities.
In Phase III Françoise Bollack Architects made the Assembly Chamber fully accessible to people with disabilities with interventions in the West Lobby. This involved the design of a new monumental marble ramp compatible with the surrounding 1911 Beaux Arts architecture and a major reconfiguration of the West Lobby itself. As in other parts of the building, unfortunate 1960s alterations had disfigured the spaced - in this case a mezzanine had been built under the stone vault to house a - now disused - air conditioning plant, and Gothic arches with richly carved capitals had been smothered within bland partitions. The mezzanine and offending partitions were removed and all stone surfaces were carefully restored.
The Assembly needed to provide additional space for the Speaker's office in that area and the design strategy celebrates this new function with a decidedly modern intervention. The design uses glass to allow the succession of vaults to read through the spaces and to provide daylight to the West Lobby. The design clarifies the relationship between the old and the new, playing glass against stone, smooth against rough, glazed against matte. The old and the new respond to each other.
The public Gallery space overlooking the Chamber had been walled off and filled with offices in the 1960s. In this phase, we also reopened and restored the West Gallery to its original polychromatic splendor to allow the public to observe Assembly proceedings.