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Boise: The Capital of Light

Posted by Kevin Hughes on Thursday, April 16th, 2015 at 12:00pm.

For over a century, the Idaho State Capitol Building has risen into the skyline of Boise. Over 200 feet in the air, the golden eagle watches over the city and the Capitol Building, standing as a symbol of our state’s government, and the democracy of the United States. To this day, it serves as the seat of the state of Idaho’s government, and it has since 1912. But the Capitol Building is more than just the home of Idaho’s government; it’s a piece of history. It’s been restored and preserved as a monument of Idaho. Even while it was being updated and modernized to serve the needs of the government today, its history and character have been preserved.

The Second Capitol

The current Idaho State Capitol Building wasn't the first one, however. And Boise wasn't the first capital of Idaho, either. Originally, Lewiston was the temporary capital of Idaho, when it was a booming center of business, trade, and mining. With the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin, the population shifted and the capital followed the people. Construction of the original Capitol Building started in 1885, but by 1905 the state legislation had outgrown the building.

The construction of the current Capitol Building began in 1905, and consisted of two phases. Phase one saw the building of the central portion, with the dome, and abbreviated east and west wings. Phase two expanded the wings. The Capitol was remodeled in the 1950s and the 1970s to try and meet the demands of a growing government, and to maintain an aging building.

Fortunately, the government understood the historic importance of the Idaho State Capitol Building, and they decided to save it. Restoration began in 2005. Work was done to repair the building, preserve what they could, update the mechanical and electrical systems, and to also expand the building to accommodate the needs of the government.

The Capitol of Light

The Idaho State Capitol Building is referred to as the Capitol of Light, because of the vision and design of the architect, John E. Tourtellotte. For Tourtellotte, light was very important, and played a huge role in his design of the Capitol Building. Not only did he create the building to utilize natural light as much as possible, he also used light as decoration.

Stepping into the main area, underneath the dome, this becomes apparent. Light shines through the skylight and illuminates the dome and marble columns. On the underside of the dome are 43 stars, symbolizing Idaho’s admission into the United States as the 43rd state. Light shafts fill the building, illuminating it and reflecting off the marble to create a stunning, and bright, view. The skylights allow the east and west wings to be illuminated almost solely by natural light, with very little need for artificial lights to be used.

But light was more than just decoration for Tourtellotte. It held a lot of symbolic meaning for him as well, and it played a large role in his design because of that. Tourtellotte held light as a symbol and a metaphor necessary in government. Light represented the enlightened state of the government, and also the moral state necessary for a government to work correctly. Light, Tourtellotte believed, was necessary to illuminate the seat of the government, to keep the government in the correct state of mind, to follow their morals, and to keep them enlightened.

Because of this, light is everywhere in the Capitol Building. There are skylights and light shafts everywhere, and even the very marble used to create the columns and facades in the building was chosen in order to reflect the light and illuminate the building. During the restorations, they kept Tourtellotte’s principles in mind, and refurbished the skylights and created skylights in the areas they expanded on.

The Light of Idaho

The Idaho State Capitol Building is representative of the lifestyle of Idaho. It sits, surrounded by gardens and nature, and it uses natural light to illuminate the building. Idaho celebrates nature and history, while blending them perfectly into an urban and modern setting. When you look for real estate in Idaho, you will find this influence everywhere. From recreational activities to building design, you will find elements of nature and nods to history all over Idaho.

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