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Give Me Your Tired Monuments
Statue of Liberty to reopen with improved accessibility.
Section through the monumental base.
Courtesy M+SA

One hundred and twenty-six years after the people of France gifted her to the United States, the Statue of Liberty is scheduled to reopen to the public this fall following a year-long project to improve accessibility and safety at the monument.

Dedicated in 1886, the statue was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, whose fellow countryman Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel engineered the statue’s skeletal support system. American Richard Morris Hunt designed the granite pedestal for the  “Mother of Exiles,” as the statue was called by Emma Lazarus whose sonnet The New Colossus (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) is engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the pedestal.

A multi-disciplinary design team headed by New Jersey–based Mills + Schnoering Architects (M+Sa) led the upgrade project for the National Park Service (NPS). The goal of the project was “to make the monument code compliant in the context of historic preservation,” said Hugh Duffy, project manager at the NPS. One of the “pinch points” for the project was to install a new elevator and two new code compliant stairs in the shaft of the pedestal, allowing visitors access to the pedestal’s observation level, as well as the crown observation platform.

Detail of staircase and nested fire staircase.

The team at M+Sa used 3-dimensional building information modeling (BIM) and laser scanning technology to determine the location of the new elevator and stairs—a challenge in a space that measures approximately 30 feet wide and is spanned with Eiffel-designed steel support beams. Almost 1,300 cubic feet of historic concrete dating from 1886 had to be removed from the pedestal to accommodate these new means of egress. The two new stairs do a “dance in the middle of the pedestal” to avoid the historic Eiffel fabric, described Michael Mills, partner at M+Sa.

Work to the monument also included the installation of a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to improve visitor comfort. The NPS has been working for the past four years to preserve the Statue and make it code compliant. In 2009, improvements including new handrails and guiderails were made to the double helix staircases leading to the crown. Visitors can see these stairs when looking up from the top level of the pedestal through the interior of the statue to the crown.

The new design will improve the trip and experience of all parts of the monument. “By enhancing safety and accessibility to this national monument, we continue to celebrate America’s most lasting legacy,” said Duffy.

Liz McEnaney