A century-old structure, Idaho's Capitol Building is the state’s most significant political and social landmark. Located in Boise, Idaho, the building is home to the state’s legislative and executive branches of government. While the central portions of the Capitol Building were completed in 1905, the building’s east and west wings were added in 1919. The design of the building is credited to architects John E. Tourtellotte and Charles F. Hummel.
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Prior to taking on this project the two had worked together on St. John's Cathedral, Boise's Carnegie Library, and the administration building at the University of Idaho. The pair was selected to design the Capitol Building due to their design aesthetic, which focused on a liberal use of skylights and white marble to accentuate color within the building. The building underwent a major restoration, which ended in 2010.
The architects of the Capitol Building had a vision for its design that centered on the metaphor of light. Seeing an abundance of light as a symbol of the enlightenment of government, the architects made sure to invite as much light into the building as possible. This is most apparent in the use of the cupola, which is one of the main ways that light enters the building. Few visitors may be aware of the fact that early elected officials who worked in the building had come from farms and ranches. Used to working outdoors, these officials were able to tell time by way of the illumination that filtered in through the cupola. Color is used sparingly in the design on the building and never competes with the white of the marble used to decorate the inside and the outside of the building. What little color is visible also has a symbolic meaning. The green of sagebrush, the red of salmon, and the gray of sawtooths are all represented in the pallet chosen for the design of the building. In this way, visitors are reminded of the natural resources of the state.
Overall, the design of the building is not done according to one prevailing fashion. The designers used a mix-and-match approach in many of the architectural aspects of the building. Borrowing from Egyptian, Greek, Renaissance, and Gothic styles, the building reflects the varied artistic landscape that informed the designers’ aesthetic.
The central rotunda showcases the state seal of Idaho. Drafted in 1891, it is the only state seal created by a woman, Emma Edwards Green. The seal depicts a woman holding scales, who represents justice, freedom, and liberty, standing alongside a miner, who represents the economic development of the state.
The underground atrium wings are also visible from the central rotunda area. The offices and meeting rooms in this area of the building were added to provide extra room for public participation in the legislative process. The motif of light is represented here though the addition of specially designed skylights that give the impression of the accessibility and transparency of government.
First Floor and Rotunda
The first floor of the Capitol Building is home of the treasurer’s office as well as the legislative services office. Though both spaces are striking in their own right, the view of the center of the cupola from the garden level is the focal point of this level. Stepping into the center of the rotunda, visitors will be able to see the eye of the inner dome of the cupola, called the oculus. The supporting structure of the cupola is made visible, so visitors will be able to spot the eight steel columns that support the dome. These columns are covered in a substance called scagliola, a plaster-based material that gives the impression of marble. The floor below the cupola has a very iconic compass rose design. While originally employed in nautical designs, the image of the compass rose was widely used in a variety of architectural applications on land.
The executive offices belonging to the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and lieutenant governor can all be seen on the second floor. Visitors can gain an appreciation of the longevity of the governorship by viewing the specially commissioned portraits of Idaho’s Governors since 1911. Corinthian columns, ornate plasterwork as well as aptly restored furniture all point to the gravity of the many important decisions that have been made inside the Capitol Building. In addition, visitors can see the updated state seal, which was designed by Paul. B Evans in 1957.
700 West Jefferson, Boise, ID 83702