Reviving a Minnesota Monument: Using Natural Stone in the Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Project

By Dahna M. Chandler

The restoration of the Minnesota State Capitol restoration began in 2013. Photo courtesy of Polycor.

After a century of active use, almost any building will begin expressing the groans of advanced aging, with internal and external structures steadily failing. The Minnesota State Capitol building was no exception. In 2013, the centenarian structure, constructed in 1905 by Cass Gilbert, had reached a severe deterioration point. Its crumbling façade, with chunks of marble threatening to fall and injure visitors, became particularly dangerous.

To preserve the architectural integrity of this historic building, the 158,225 occupied square foot Capitol is undergoing a $309.674 million, three-plus-year extensive renovation, repair, and restoration. The project, expected to be completed in late 2017, will also update mechanical structures and add visitor space. When finished, this will be among the largest and most complex restoration projects to take place in the United States.

 

The project used over 6,000 cubic feet of White Georgia marble; the same stone that was used in the building’s original construction. Photo courtesy of Polycor.

Materials from Original Quarries Recreates History and Creates Excitement

Joe Becker, Vice President of Twin City Tile and Marble’s Stone Division in Eagan, MN, noted that there were strict standards involved for choosing contractors on this project, including  significant experience in particular aspects of the renovation project and partners who could provide stone fabricating services.

“We were responsible for all aspects of procuring the Georgia marble over a four-year duration,” Becker explained. That included sourcing, fabrication, field measuring, templates, pricing, maintaining the schedule and ornamental carving.

In any historic restoration project, the goal is to maintain the integrity of the building by choosing materials that closely match the original. The Capitol restoration is unique in that the architects were able to source the same White Georgia marble that was selected by Cass Gilbert over 100 years ago. In total, the project used 6,022 cubic feet of White Georgia marble (nearly 4,000 new stones) sourced from Polycor’s quarry in Tate, Georgia.

Sylvie Beaudoin, Project Manager for Polycor, was responsible for making sure the project ran effortlessly even before onsite work began. She was responsible for making sure the quality of stone was adequate, including selecting raw materials from the quarry and getting large blocks cut into specific thicknesses for multiple profiles were required.”

Beaudoin coordinated transport of miniblocks of marble from Georgia to Carrara, Italy, where they were carved by Italmarble Pocai. According to Managing Director Agostino Pocai: “For two years, it was a continuous flow of crates flying across the Atlantic Ocean: blocks Eastward, carvings westward.” In total, 373 capitals and 105 trims were carved in Italy.

 

Stone masons and carvers restored stone onsite during the project. Photos courtesy of Twin City Tile and Marble.

Restoring Natural Stone Elements Beautifully is a Key Project Focus

Staying true to Cass Gilbert's vision of a functional and open building and keeping the structure that way for the next 100 years of use has been a critical focus of the project. Consequently, the preservation commission’s commitment to architectural and historical integrity wasn’t only to installing new stone. Equally important was restoring the damaged or deteriorating pieces. As such, significant effort has been dedicated to restoration.

The architects and preservation commission wanted to conserve as much of the original material as possible. Stone that was deemed repairable was restored onsite by stone masons and carvers from Twin City.  Margaret “Mimi” Moore, Master Stone Carver, commented: “I have had the privilege of carving stone for almost ten perecent of the US capitols. Twin City Tile and Marble’s attention to detail was so great, they had an almost null error rate.” Stone that required replacement was categorized and templated, then dispersed between Tennesee Marble Company (Friendsville, TN) and Cutting Edge Stone (Alpharetta, GA).

Stone masons and carvers restored stone onsite during the project. Photos courtesy of Twin City Tile and Marble.

“It’s an intricate, time-consuming art to take the new and blend it with the old,” says Beaudoin. “It was amazing how they made the new stone flow and fit into the building.” She was impressed by the craftsmanship of the Twin City carvers and team to make the new natural stonework blend seamlessly with the existing white marble. Like an intricate puzzle, each restored piece was numbered and placed according to the architect’s plan back onto the fascia.

 

Preserving Natural Stone Elements Honors History

More than working on another construction project, the contractors felt honored to walk on hallowed ground as they stepped into the shoes of the state capitol’s original builders. Preserving what they did was essential because not doing so represented a loss of history.

Monica Gawet, President of Tennessee Marble Company, believes that natural stone was critical to this project: “Not only is natural stone Incredibly unique and made by nature, not by man, but a building is also like a life. It represents a quarry, a location, the history of a community.”

“Because it is part of the community’s history and culture, we should repair, restore, and improve the building but not alter its integrity,” Beaudoin said. “It has to last for many more generations. A project like this becomes part of you, and you’re proud of what you did to help restore someone else’s history.”

 

Coordinating a Monumental Project Required Teamwork

The success of the Minnesota State Capitol renovation depended largey on the extensive collaboration of the companies involved. The project included seven MIA+BSI member companies: Polycor, Twin City Tile and Marble, Italmarble Pocai, Tennessee Marble Company, Cutting Edge Stone, Bonstone, and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. Jessica Ward, Project Manager for Cutting Edge Stone, commented: “Looking back on the project, the most important thing I want to take away for myself and for our company is the level of teamwork demonstrated by everyone involved. With the right team of determined, passionate individuals and a positive attitude, even the most monumental of tasks is possible.”

In January 2017, the companies involved in this project were honored with the Grande Pinnacle Award, which is given to the best overall project in all categories of the MIA+BSI Pinnacle Awards. As one Pinnacle Award judge commented: “The number of disciplines working together on this project is exemplary and shows overall quality trhougout. You can’t tell where one contractor’s scope ends and another starts—this is true teamwork.”

A grand opening for the newly restored Minnesota State Capitol is scheduled for August 11-13.

 

The Minnesota State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Polycor.