A colorful lighting scheme brightened the dome on the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison last winter, adding a big dose of holiday cheer as well. Designed by Linda Essig, head of the lighting design program at the University of Wisconsin Department of Theatre and Drama, the lighting was executed by Ethan Aberg and Kent Newbold of Madison-based John S. Hyatt Associates.

“I was contacted last June by the Downtown Business Development District,” explains Essig. “They remembered when there were lights in the trees for Gil Hemsley's memorial service back in the 1980s.” In addition to lighting the trees for the holidays, Essig suggested a color installation on the dome, a highly visible structure on State Street, which connects the campus to the capitol.

She opted for a rainbow effect rather than a traditional red-and-green or holiday-specific combination. The colors selected were obtained by slipping Roscolux gels into custom-made frames on 48 existing Phoenix architectural wash lights, using high-intensity discharge lamps.

The fixtures are divided into eight banks of six, and located on building wings under the dome. “We did tests in the light lab, using HID fixtures to look at numerous color combinations,” notes Essig. The end result was a rainbow of color that wrapped around the dome.

The west wing, or the side of the capitol facing the UW — Madison campus, was entirely red (Rosco 26 Light Red) to commemorate the school's signature “Badger Red.” The north wing was orange (R23 Orange) and yellow (R312 Canary); the east wing combined green (R389 Chroma Green) and blue (R69 Brilliant Blue); while the south wing was a blend of indigo (R83 Medium Blue) and violet (R48 Rose Purple).

The dome was aglow for six weeks, from November 17 through December 28, 2000. “There was no color-fading at all,” Essig says, indicating that the lighting was so successful, she is working on a proposal to develop a library of custom-colored acrylic lenses for future installations. Perhaps it will become a permanent fixture of Madison's nighttime cityscape.