Oculus - Winter 2013 - (Page 43)
For well over a century,
the Statue of Liberty
has graced the must-see lists of visitors to New York
B Y J O H N M O R R I S DI X O N , FA IA
ternal as she may seem today - even when closed to the public - Lady
Liberty underwent a prolonged and precarious birth process. As early as
1865, influential Frenchmen began promoting the statue, not just as a symbol
of friendship with America, but as a veiled plea for a return to democracy in
Second Empire France. By 1870 the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi had sketched
a colossal sculpture, which supporters hoped to erect for the U.S. Centennial
in 1876. They missed that date by a decade.
In 1871 Bartholdi traveled to the U.S., promoting the concept to dignitaries. Immediately on arrival, he identified Bedloe's Island as the ideal site -
already federally owned, with an old stone-walled fortification perfectly suited
as a plinth for the project.
The sculptor modeled the proposed statue after Libertas, the Roman goddess of freed slaves. The addition of the raised torch led to the sculpture's title:
Liberty Enlightening the World. Traditionally, Libertas was shown with a
pileus, a pointed cap worn in ancient Rome by freed slaves, but this reference
was considered too divisive only a few years after our Civil War, so Bartholdi
invented the now-familiar spiky crown.
To boost enthusiasm for the project, parts of the statue were fabricated full
size. The torch was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in
1876, and for several years after in New York; the head was erected in a Paris
park in 1878.
For the structural support of the whole statue, Bartholdi first consulted the
revered architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who proposed a masonry core. After
Viollet-le-Duc's death in 1879, the sculptor turned to the engineer Gustave
The Fun Factor: Visitors + Vistas
Eiffel (later to erect his eponymous tower), who
designed the statue's actual cast-iron frame.
In 1881 architect Richard Morris Hunt was
commissioned for the pedestal, the general form of
which had appeared in Bartholdi's sketches. Hunt's
design is notable for its severe granite-clad walls,
adorned subtly by one recessed colonnade on each
face. His pedestal remains a highly effective component of the image we all carry of the statue.
The completed statue arrived in America in
1885 - in 350 pieces. It was reassembled on its
completed pedestal in four months and dedicated
with a huge celebration on October 28, 1886.
The statue's copper surface was originally
brown, and wasn't fully coated in its familiar green
patina until 1902. There was a movement to strip
the patina and paint the copper, but wiser heads
The statue has been the object of two restoration
projects in recent decades. A 1984-1986 effort, led
by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, included
improving visitor circulation, correcting the
inadequate support of the torch arm, and replacing the deteriorated connections of the copper skin
to the frame. The most recent renovation, completed in 2012, was directed by Mills + Schnoering
Architects. It enabled wheelchair access, for the first
time, to the observation platform at the top of the
pedestal, while improving interior air temperature,
alarms, sprinklers, and emergency exit routes.
After that latest renovation, the statue was
reopened to the public only one day before Superstorm Sandy destroyed its ferry pier and other support facilities, though only minimally damaging the
sculpture itself. Reopened yet again on July 4, 2013,
the landmark was closed for 12 days in October
because of the Congressional standoff. We should
all plan to revisit Lady Liberty - while we can.
John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for
journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive
Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He continues
to write for a number of publications, and he
received AIANY's 2011 Stephen A. Kliment
Oculus Award for Excellence in Journalism.
Winter 2013 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2013
First Words Letter from Two Presidents
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: Designing – and Defi ning – a Moment in Time
Eat, Drink, and Wear the Brand
Architecture Tourism: New York City’s Waterfront – and Beyond
Development Does DUMBO
A Tale of Two Piers
Healing Buildings to Heal a City Once Again
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Winter 2013