The Library of Congress Scrubs the Oculus Project

The Library of Congress Scrubs the Oculus Project

by Larry Janezich

Posted December 13, 2022

Last Sunday, Capitol Hill Corner reported that sources say that the controversial oculus project is dead.  The project had envisioned removing the central circulation desk in the Main Reading Room to make way for a 24 foot oculus affording visitors a view of the interior dome from a new Orientation Gallery on the floor below.

Capitol Hill Corner has confirmed that the oculus project has been cancelled.  According to Brett Zongker, Chief of Media Relations, LOC, some changes to the plan to make the LOC a friendlier visitors’ destination were necessary due to “budget overruns and a suboptimal design that has emerged from the design process.” 

In a November 14, 2022 letter to Senator Roy Blunt, Ranking Member of the Committee on Rules & Administration which oversees the Library, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said:

“Preparations are underway to create a new 8,600 square foot orientation gallery… The Library recently received the final design plans with associated budget and schedule requirements for the oculus feature proposed as a centerpiece of the Orientation Gallery. Several changes required during the construction design process resulted in a significantly less impactful and engaging outcome, including the addition of fire safety equipment that reduced the size of oculus from a diameter of 24 feet to 16 feet. At the same time, the cost for the feature escalated considerably, and the Architect of the Capitol estimated that they would require additional time to complete construction for the Orientation Gallery, based on the final oculus design plans.

The suboptimal design, significant increase in cost, and unacceptable extension of the entire project’s timeline led the Library to make the difficult decision to eliminate the oculus from the Orientation Gallery plans. The Library’s leadership will move quickly to develop a new approach that will enhance the Orientation Gallery’s design, while minimizing the budget and timeline impacts on the overall project.

While we are disappointed that the new Orientation Gallery will no longer provide visitors with the new and exciting perspective into the Main Reading Room that we initially envisioned, plans for a glass vestibule extending from the Great Hall entrance into the Main Reading Room for visitors will also move forward…..”

The plan, which would have eliminated all – and then part under a revised oculus concept – of the historic central circulating desk in the Main Reading Room drew wide opposition from preservationists.  Recently, The Society of Architectural Historians released a September 8, 2022, letter from the SAH Heritage Conservation Committee to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla D. Hayden opposing the proposed alterations to the Main Reading Room.  See here:

Zongker told Capitol Hill Corner:  “We will provide updates on the project as the designs are further refined and finalized.”

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