I've been corresponding with a man who has proposed repealing the limit of 435 members on the House of Representatives. The founders intended for each rep to represent no more than 30000, 50000, or 60000 depending on which source you look at. In 2000 simple arithmatic shows that each member of the house is responsible for representing the interests of 571766 citizens. If the limit of 435 reps was repealed, the house would grow 1900% to around 8200 members. Sounds like quite the challenge for the Architect of the Capitol; no wonder they capped it at 435. Below is a part of my email describing some interesting coincidences of timing:
The old house chamber (now Statuary room) was the subject of some debate when it was built. The original plans by Thornton called for an elliptical room but Latrobe changed it to be two semicircular end caps connected by parallel lines. Although this seems like a minor change, it implies that Latrobe was at least partially concerned with the possibility of future expansion of the chamber. Simply put, an ellipse is a singular shape and cannot be modified or added to without losing its purity; in contrast, the connected semicircles that Latrobe built (I believe the Statuary room is one end of this previous room, still digging for drawings to prove this) are already aggregated figures and thus may be added on to further without destroying the geometric integrity of the room.
Indeed, it's curious that the founders of the country were so concerned with ensuring that no single Rep would represent too many citizens and yet the original 1792 competition for the capitol showed little or no interest in the need for future expansion. Jefferson, who one assumes would be very aware of both the political and architectural implications of the representative structure, even sketched a captiol of elliptical chambers set inside of a large circular structure. The Thomas Ustick Walter wings (the cap and base of the "I") that began construction in 1851 similarly trapped the capitol in a geometric dead end. Without the wings, the building can expand symmetrically on either side and still maintain geometric integrity but with Walter's additions in place the possibilities of expansion are limited, the geometric disposition of it leaving much less room for expansion. [Note: this is in distinct opposition to the AIA carbonite mentioned in a previous post.]
At any rate, the question of why 435 and its timing are quite intriguing. In looking at the timeline of additions and renovations to the capitol itself, it's interesting to note that the first House office building (Cannon) was built in 1908 with the first Senate office building following a year later. By 1913 an additional floor would be added to the Cannon building to accommodate the expanding needs of the House. While I don't want to downplay any political issues at work around the time of the 435 decision it is highly coincidental that this choice was made within 10 years of congress feeling such significant growing pains that they had to expand into a new office, transforming the capitol from a single building to a complex. Could it be that the expense and hassle of this first expansion was too much for the body to handle? That the decision to limit the size of the house to 435 reps was partially motivated by a desire to curtail an infinite expansion of members and offices? As it turns out, even if the number of reps is fixed (for now) this does not keep the size of the congress from expanding. The numbers of staff, standing committees, and the size of offices required to serve these people has continued to expand.