Michael Bridgeman hosted Wisconsin Public Television’s Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin in 2015. As an architecture aficionado and history buff, he brought curiosity and appreciation of the homes’ forms as well as their very human functions. Now, Bridgeman returns to television with a portrait of the state’s architectural crown jewel.
Our House: The Wisconsin Capitol premieres 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27 on WPT.
We asked Bridgeman to share his thoughts on the many reasons this building resonates with the state’s residents. Read on for more!
Michael Bridgeman writes:
Though I grew up in Wisconsin, my appreciation for the Capitol has grown over the 35 years I’ve lived in Madison. I’ve seen the building in many ways and in all seasons.
Still, its wonders continue to unfold. Working on Our House: The Wisconsin Capitol gave me new ways to see and experience this National Historic Landmark.
This program is a kind of birthday celebration. The importance of this building we now enjoy – as a place, a symbol and an idea – has deepened since it was completed 100 years ago. It is a wonderful treasure.
The idea of the Capitol is an expression of the Progressive Era in which it was planned and built. As the role of government expanded, Progressives also aimed to make government more accessible.
I think of the four wings of the building as outstretched arms welcoming all of us to “the people’s house.” People bring the Capitol to life: citizens calling on their legislators, school kids gaping at the painting high inside the dome, tourists taking in the grand spaces, couples posing for wedding photos before the granite columns.
The building is a symbol of power, to be sure, designed to awe. But it’s also meant to inspire.
As we learn in Our House, everything about the building was carefully planned and executed to convey the ideals of democratic government in Wisconsin. Even without a guidebook or a tour leader to explain all there is to see, the Capitol’s symbolic purpose is evident. Even its presence on a hill carries symbolic weight.
That’s another way of saying the building can be appreciated simply as a special place, a finely tuned environment that is beautiful to see and enjoy.
The exterior form and details make a stunning composition. The interior dazzles with color from marble, mosaics, paintings, glass, gold leaf, brass, wood and decorated walls (and ceilings!). The lively inside spaces contrast with the solemn interiors I’ve encountered in other state capitols.
The ground floor corridors of our Capitol are dim, drawing us toward the central rotunda which glows with natural light from windows that encircle the base of the dome. Skylights bring outdoor light into each of the four wings and principal chambers.
During Our House, we see skylights from both sides. We clamber up the inside of the dome for a close-up view of the mural some 200 feet above the rotunda floor. We go underground, too, to see how a cobwebby basement with no head clearance (“You’d bump your head a lot,” said one restoration expert) turned into modern, spacious offices and workspaces for the people who keep the Capitol running day in and day out.
The Wisconsin Capitol was intended to be, and continues to be, one of the most accessible buildings in the state. That’s why we chose the title Our House for our celebration of its 100th year. It’s open to the public every day of the year, with free tours except on state holidays.
Check out a Wisconsin Life story about a pair of landscape architecture students who created a floral impression of the state’s official dance: the polka.
I hope you’ll join me to see the marvels of our Capitol up close – and I hope it inspires you to take another look in person! Touch the cool stone and count the varieties of natural colors and textures; keep an eye out for ancient fossils embedded in the walls and floors. Gaze up the grand staircases and explore the rooms where your elected officials meet and make policy. Come back in the summer to enjoy the spectacular views from the observation deck and the colors of 25,000 plantings on the grounds.
The Wisconsin Capitol isn’t just a place where legislators make history. It’s our house – and our story, too.
Funding for Our House: The Wisconsin Capitol provided by Ron and Colleen Weyers, Francis A. and Georgia F. Ariens Fund within the Brillion Area Family of Funds, the Conney Family in loving memory of Mildred Conney, Edvest College Savings Plan, the Eleanor and Thomas Wildrick Family, Roger and Lynn Van Vreede, American Transmission Company, National Guardian Life Insurance Company, and Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.