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This Old Statehouse: Interview with Bill Dikis

posted on April 2, 2001 at 5:50 PM

Bill Dikis
RDG Bussard Dikis Inc.

JACK SHEPARD INTERVIEWS BILL DIKIS FOR STORY ON IOWA STATE CAPITOL RESTORATION

Interviewed February 29, 2000

JACK SHEPARD: Imagine that you and I ran into each other in an airport terminal. You were going to San Diego and I was going to New York City and we had about two minutes in order to strike up a conversation. What would you tell me about this Capitol and the project?

BILL DIKIS: Well, I'm often asked a question like that. And for the last 19 years I've been able to answer the question with the first project that I mention, which is always the Iowa State Capitol restoration. It's been a wonderful project. It's a great privilege to work on this building which has tremendous landmark heritage importance in the state. It's such a wonderful opportunity to be able to preserve the heritage of this capitol for future generations of Iowa.

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me what you think about the quality of the original construction.

BILL DIKIS: Well, the original construction certainly came out of a different era. It's load-bearing masonry, and therefore it's quite a bit different than today's technology. But, I think the craftsmanship that we see as we look through the details -- and we get to see a lot of the details -- is really quite wonderful. And it often gives me pause to stop and be impressed by the knowledge as well as the skill of those who worked on the building in those days.

JACK SHEPARD: They were doing their absolutely best, you think?

BILL DIKIS: Oh, they were motivated and driven, I think, to do well. It must have been a wonderful team of people who made this happen.

JACK SHEPARD: Can you comment on what's going on now?

BILL DIKIS: It's been a delight to see the craftsmen who are working on the project today and how motivated they are to do as well as those who had built the building in the first place. All of the people, I think to a person, who are privileged to work on this project, are very excited about being a part of it and do their very best.

JACK SHEPARD: You think that everybody has been able to step up their work just a notch because of the importance of their job?

BILL DIKIS: I think they definitely have stepped up their level of interest in what they do because the project is so important to them. They hold it high in their own esteem.

JACK SHEPARD: So this building is obviously one of a kind.

BILL DIKIS: There are not many one-of-a-kind projects built these days. And in those days, just think how amazing it must have been to see this building rising from the plains of Iowa. It is absolutely the finest landmark we have in Iowa!

JACK SHEPARD: Can you give me an idea of the extra steps that have been taken to ensure that this building is put back the way it was or as close to where it was as possible?

BILL DIKIS: The preservation effort entails a very careful recording of what existed in the first place. Sometimes the information that we need to develop is not actually there, or is very difficult to get. On rare occasions we need to use circumstantial evidence in order to be able to get to the restoration effort itself. The research efforts document a great deal of the building either by its very presence or by the photographic research and written research that we're able to find. We make a great effort to preserve the materials that are in place. And we only reluctantly remove those materials and add new materials where it's absolutely necessary because the originals have lost their life value. And so when we put those things back they're done with a great deal of careful effort in dimensioning, photographic evidence, and so on to replicate what was there so that we preserve the character and the texture of the original building.

JACK SHEPARD: This is a little bit of a history lesson, isn't it?

BILL DIKIS: It is. In fact it's sent me to the library many times to enhance the understanding of the building and its original builders. It's interesting how much we can learn about today's buildings from our historic buildings. There was a great deal of knowledge that still is amazing today in terms of how the weather interacts with buildings and degrades them and what we can do to prevent that. But, it's also a very interesting opportunity to integrate modern day technology and embed it within the building -- things like fire prevention technology, life safety, things that we can take advantage of today and integrate very quietly into the character of the original building.

JACK SHEPARD: Very quietly. I've spoken with more than one person who has said that the highest compliment they can receive is when someone walks into a room and says, "I thought you said you worked in here." We talked last week about one thing that you're doing to make sure that the stone in certain areas can withstand all the water that's going to come down on it. Tell me about the extra steps that might not have been known about in the past.

BILL DIKIS: An advancement in technology that's available to us today to help prevent the stone degradation that has happened in the past. First of all we have changed the stone material from sandstone to limestone which has proven to be much more resistant to the weathering process. One of the other things that we have changed is on sloped ledges that are exposed to the rainy atmosphere. We've covered those with a lead-coated copper so that it will shed the worst of the rain.

JACK SHEPARD: So we're hoping that this is going to last another hundred years?

Bill DIKIS: We think it'll last much more durably during this next hundred years than the last hundred years, only because we know more about what's available than the original builders did.

JACK SHEPARD: When your grandchildren come along and you're walking up there at the Capitol and pointing to something that you were instrumental in putting back the way it was originally, how's that going to make you feel?

BILL DIKIS: I'm going to feel wonderful to be able to point that out to my grandchildren. I've taken children into the Capitol, and it's been just delightful to have them understand what I do for a living.

JACK SHEPARD: That's great, and it's THE monument that every Iowan associates with the state.

BILL DIKIS: It is; it's a symbol and an icon for the state. I hope it can become a national landmark sometime.

JACK SHEPARD: It's definitely a museum and a working building at the same time.

BILL DIKIS: It is.

JACK SHEPARD: That's a little bit of a trick, isn't it?

BILL DIKIS: It's very tough to keep today's functional requirements habitable in such a historic building as this, but it works very well.

JACK SHEPARD: Part of this restoration project has been updating some of the Capitol's function to a more state of the art situation.

BILL DIKIS: Yes, especially for the Legislature who makes extraordinary demands on the building. The needs for computer technology and the speaker system, as well as the more quiet things like fire protection for the inhabitants and those sorts of things, are just a very interesting mix of the old and the new.

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