In March 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CALIF.) launched the Green the Capitol Initiative in an effort to make Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., more environmentally responsible and sustainable. Now, a year later, a plan is in motion as part of that program to update the exterior lighting scheme used to illuminate the Capitol Dome to improve efficiency, color, and maintenance.

“It's a real opportunity for us to address [sustainability] issues on an iconic building,” says Helen Diemer, vice president of Philadelphia-based lighting design firm The Lighting Practice, which has been selected by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer for this project. “I think our game plan is to take advantage of technologies currently on the market that will allow us to light the dome to its truest color with better efficiency and better maintenance characteristics.”

Currently, the Capitol's exterior lighting scheme consists of 38 fixtures housing 1000W metal halide lamps with a color temperature of 3900K, however, the lamps are filtered to bring the color temperature closer to 3200K. While one of the major goals of this redesign effort is energy efficiency, it has not yet been decided what type of lamps will be used for the new lighting scheme as the design process currently is under way. Approval for the effort still has to be granted by House and Senate leadership, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. If it gets the go-ahead, the project is expected to be completed in a six-month time frame.

The lighting redesign for the dome is split into three phases: lighting of the dome itself, lighting of the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the dome, and the lighting inside the dome that is illuminated when Congress is in session. While TLP is in charge of the lighting design and project management, it also is working with Philadelphia-based architectural firm VITETTA, which will handle preservation architecture and structural engineering, and the New York office of engineering firm Flack + Kurtz, which will be in charge of electrical engineering.

“I think one of the exciting aspects of the project for us is the opportunity to demonstrate to a lot of people that lighting and sustainability are linked, that lighting design can have a major impact on the sustainable question,” Diemer explains. Upgrading the lighting used to illuminate the Capitol Dome is a highly visible project that TLP is hoping will bring more attention to the sustainability issue and influence other lighting design installations across the country to follow suit.