Brasilia 1958
Chandigarh 1963
UN 1950

By the time anyone calling themselves a Modernist thought about placing a dome atop their building, the inherited form was Baroque: most typified by an elongated or raised dome on the exterior hiding a double dome on the interior. Owing to the presence of large bearing walls, the plan footprint of the Baroque dome marks out a contained silo of space that happens to be standing in the middle of a building mass while wearing an extravagant cap.

This is the style of dome at both Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the US Capitol, which used the former as its model. Resolved as a single, aggregate figure on the exterior, the iron skin of the Capitol’s dome actually hides two stacked volumes on the interior. This technique allows for a larger interior volume than would otherwise be possible on the available footprint while retaining a capping surface that may be painted with minimal distortion. Using poche to escape the construction realities of the period, the interior and exterior surfaces of the dome are each developed to their experiential best. For visitors to the Capitol’s rotunda a view to the upper, spherical cap is framed by an elongated and truncated dome in a way that optically merges the two back into a single figure.

Afforded new possibilities by cast-in-place concrete and anxious to gain the civic anointment* that a domed space offers, Niemeyer’s design for the Congress in Brasilia features two domes: one a low spherical cap and the other an inverted, saucer like form. Formally, twin domes appear to be poised carefully on top of a plinth. Despite these diverging exterior appearances, the space of both domes is similar in that the chambers, belonging to the base, extend vertically into the volume afforded by their respective domes. To prove the material advances of the modern age, the plan is liberated and the structural footprint of the dome is no longer self-same as the ceremonial space that it contains. Ancillary spaces tucked into the volume of Niemeyer’s domes remain as a ghost of the poche so dreaded in the Baroque.

Conversely, Le Corbusier’s, at the Palace of the Assembly in Chandigarh, has sunken the dome into the building entirely. Like the Baroque model, Corbusier’s dome is embedded into its host. However, instead of raising the dome on piers or walls, and thus protecting the spaces below from its oblique geometry, Corbusier’s sunken dome strategically acts against the large orthogonal container it sits within, animating the large public volume of the building with its presence. The economy of this move is further emphasized by the fact that the form and interior volume of the dome are the same, described by a thin line of concrete. Here, poche has been banished and the dome itself restored to a level of antique purity.

* So Convinced was the US Congress that a legislative building must have a dome that they held up funding for the UN complex until a dome was added to the General Assembly.