Leaks blowing roof off Legislative Building

Posted July 13, 2016

— News leaks are common in a legislature, but it's leaks of the water variety that have forced the third floor of North Carolina's Legislative building – the main public area there – to be closed for the rest of the year.

Crews are scheduled to start a major repair of the roof next week, including removing asbestos from the 53-year-old building. Officials hope to finish the work by mid-January, when state lawmakers return for their 2017 session.

At the time the building opened in 1963, North Carolinians weren't quite sure what to make of its leafy courtyards, splashy fountains, diamond-shaped skylights and five copper pyramids on top. It's one of the most unusual state legislative buildings in the U.S.

"This building had many critics who derided it as a pagoda or more befitting the Hawaii legislature than North Carolina's," said Mike Hill, a research historian with the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Architect Edward Durell Stone, who designed the building before going on to bigger projects like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., is known for his use of non-traditional forms, Hill said.

"This, certainly I think it's safe to say, is a non-traditional form," he said.

To this day, the interior resembles a time capsule from the 1960s, replete with hand-carved globe light fixtures, old couches, and giant brass chandeliers. "Of course, there's something of a rage for '60s elements now – the '60s retro feel like in 'Mad Men' and other popular culture – and I suppose you'd say this is a very 1960s building," Hill said.

Unfortunately, it's also replete with asbestos, which was commonly used at the time as a fire retardant. It hasn't posed any danger to the public while it's been locked behind the ceiling panels. but repairing the leaky roof will require its removal, a lengthy and arduous process that will require the top floor to be sealed off from the rest of the building.

Crews also plan to replace the copper cladding, which is also showing its age, on the pyramids atop the building.

Hill said he doesn't know why Stone opted to crown the building with pyramids, but says they're there for good.

"The pyramid is its most defining feature. So no, I don't think there would be any change to that," Hill said.

Renovations to the House and Senate chambers were completed a couple of years ago.


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