I went to see the unveiling of the restoration of the world’s largest Louis Comfort Tiffany art glass dome — located in Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center, which has been completed with dazzling results. The project restored the dome to Tiffany’s original vision and allows it to be seen as it was in 1897, when the building opened as the first Chicago Public Library. You may recall seeing an exterior photo of this building previously, and here it is again.
Approximately 38 feet in diameter, the Tiffany dome spans more than 1,000 square feet. It contains approximately 30,000 pieces of glass in 243 sections within an ornate cast iron frame. The body of the dome has a “fish scale” pattern. The center, called the oculus, shows the signs of the zodiac. The interior stained glass dome originally was protected by an exterior translucent glass dome, which allowed much-needed natural light into what was then the library’s general delivery room.
During this project, the concrete and copper exterior dome that had been added during the 1930s was removed, once again allowing natural light to shine through the glass. This was added, I was told, to protect the dome from enemy attack as the country entered World War I. Now, natural light pours into the room, changing the subtle colors of the restored glass minute-by-minute, while all of the room’s decorative elements glow and harmonize. In addition to cleaning and repairing the art glass, the ornate cast iron framework of the dome was given a new application of its original finish. Delicate rosette lighting around the cornice of the dome also was refurbished.
The cost of restoring the Tiffany dome was approximately $2,200,000.00. What was interesting to note was the original cost of the building’s design and construction, including the Tiffany dome, was less than the cost of restoration. In early 1900’s dollars, it cost $2,000,000.00, with the Tiffany dome coming in at a cost of $120,000.00.
It was also amazing by how much the colors would change in the Tiffany dome as the earth continued to orbit the ever-setting sun. After touring the entire building, I am still amazed at the construction of the building, the marble decor and the mosaic friezes, all at a minimal cost of $2,000,000.00.
Along the bottom of the dome’s entire perimeter is a phrase by Joseph Addison (1672-1719) written in Roman lettering: “Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind which are delivered down from generation to generation as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.” Remember that the building’s original function was a library when it was first built, not as a cultural center.
I went back this past weekend to get better photos as I NEVER went with a slow shutter speed to see if I could get better color and interior exposure. But the area was "draped off" for a private function. I ended up discovering a war memorial hall within the same building, which also had its very own dome. That will be revealed later. Photo taken July 13, 2008.
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