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The entry portal in the center of the façade facing Constitution Avenue opens to a neoclassical foyer with walls of Caen stone, a creamy-yellow, fossil-rich limestone that is quarried in northwestern France. The mahogany ceiling is decorated with a silver vine design. Four bronze lamps, designed by Lawrie to suggest the fire-bearing bowls that illuminated Greek temples, line the walls. Bronze winged figures, mounted on either side of the foyer, originally flanked a moveable stage for the Great Hall.
At both ends of the foyer, bronze grilles are decorated with Lawrie's interpretations of the signs of the zodiac; each grille depicts six signs arranged in two columns of three, with each horizontal pair framed by two pairs of winged lions facing one another in profile. The appearance of the signs of the zodiac may seem curious in a building dedicated to science. The zodiac has its origin in Babylonian star catalogues where it functioned as a celestial coordinate system. The constellations represented in the zodiac were given special status by the Babylonians because of their position along the ecliptic — the apparent path of the sun over the course of a year — divided into twelve equal sections with the position of the sun at vernal equinox as the origin. In the Academy building depictions of the zodiac and other ancient images symbolize human observations of nature in ancient times and the progress of science from its beginnings to the modern era.
|A Home for Science in America Origins The Site Selection of an Architect Early Concepts of the Building The NAS Building's Exterior Exterior Stone Carvings and Bronze Work The Grounds The Entry Foyer The Great Hall Exhibits Library & Reading Room The Lecture Room and the Board Room The Wings The Auditorium Restoration Cleaning and Conservation of the Historic Core New Spaces and New Infrastructure