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The State Library of Victoria invites you to celebrate the centenary of its iconic dome
Since 1913 the Library's domed reading room has been the symbolic heart of our great institution. Celebrate the scholarship, creativity and learning this architectural icon has inspired for generations of Victorians. Learn more
Neil Vorbach is the Library’s Building Facilities maintenance supervisor. He worked as an advisor on the dome refurbishment from 2001 to 2003.
I started at the Library in 1995. The building takes up a big city block but at the time just my manager, myself and a maintenance engineer took care of all the maintenance issues around the building.
At that time the dome had a copper roof. It had been re-sheeted with copper in 1959 because the original had started to leak.
In heavy storms and winds we’d sometimes get copper shingles blowing off. It was a maintenance nightmare.
The redevelopment of the dome began in 2001 and took just over a year and a half, including bringing the roof back to its original state. The dome roof is designed to take one-in-a-hundred type of storms. The roof material is a zinc and lead compound that was sourced from Europe. We used three layers: a membrane, a top layer with the skylights, and then the roof on top of that. The plumbers who won the roof tender had to take a special course to learn how to plumb the folds of the roof, because that kind of thing isn’t covered in modern roofing training.
The highlight of the dome’s rejuvenation, for me, was to see the inside of the dome fully scaffolded – from the floor to the ceiling. It was called a birdcage scaffold. It was massive, just amazing. We needed the scaffold for all the painting, the mechanical jobs and glazing the roof from underneath. Another highlight was going up the scaffold and being right underneath where the roof is now.
Sometimes I’ve been here late at night and looked out from the annulus areas on level six at the buildings that have gone up in the time since I’ve been here, and the lights. I like to see the dome fully lit, and on a darker day when the sun doesn’t come through the skylights, you get more of an appreciation of the lighting – the green lights look fantastic, the lights around in the balconies look great.
On special occasions we turn on the up-lights on the internal balconies and it lights up the centre of the dome from below. I’ve been here only a couple of times when that’s happened and when you go outside, the lights hit the gold embossing on the top of the dome and give a fantastic impression. I think that’s my favourite.