photo by Tom Bantle
The magnificent translucent dome, 38 feet in diameter and made of Tiffany Favrile glass, is cut in the shape of fish scales. At the top of the dome are the signs of the zodiac. Now lighted electrically, it was originally illuminated by sunlight. At the base of the dome is a quotation from the British author Joseph Addison. The dome glass, lighting fixtures, wall sconces and chandeliers were made by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York. The supporting frame was constructed by the Chicago Ornamental Iron Company.
The restoration of the Chicago Cultural Center’s Louis Comfort Tiffany art glass dome — the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world — was completed in 2008 with awe-inspiring results.
This project restored the dome to Tiffany’s original vision. Now the dome can be seen as it was in 1897, when the building opened as the first Chicago Public Library, and the room now named Preston Bradley Hall was where people picked up the books they had requested. The concrete and copper exterior dome that had been added over the art glass dome during the 1930s was removed. Natural light shines through the glass, changing the subtle colors of the restored glass minute-by-minute.
Approximately 38 feet in diameter, the Tiffany dome spans more than 1,000 square feet. It contains some 30,000 pieces of glass in 243 sections held within an ornate cast iron frame. In order to restore the glass, the panels were removed from the framework and taken to a world-renowned glass studio. The panels were disassembled so that each piece of glass could be cleaned by hand and repaired as necessary, then reassembled with new leading.
The concrete and copper exterior dome was removed, and replaced by one that is translucent and energy-efficient. The reintroduction of natural light into Preston Bradley Hall reduces the need for artificial lighting, which reduces electrical costs.
The cast iron framework was given a new application of its original finish, aluminum leaf. Delicate rosette lighting around the cornice of the dome, which had not been used in decades, also was refurbished, creating an elegant transition between the upper and lower portions of the room.
The final step was to reinstall the restored glass panels. Preston Bradley Hall reopened on July 1, and throughout the summer record-breaking crowds came to the Chicago Cultural Center to see the building’s crown jewel.