Albany, N.Y. — One hundred years lies between the construction of Albany's two seats of government. But the span of time separating the century-old State Capitol and the government offices of the Albany Mall looks much longer.
The spare wastes and isolated geometries of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's South Mall, designed in the mid-1960s, appear all the more vacuous across the street from the rich surfaces and splendid embellishments of the original Capitol. That building has just received the finishing touches on the first stage of a $3.5 million Senate fix-up.
Even the $24 million needed for completing the work shrinks before the original cost of just, say, the $40 million egg-shaped mall designed for the surreal complex by architect Wallis Harrison. It pales when set against the $10 million lawsuit recently brought by the state to repair the disintegrating marble facades of the new mall.
If the splendid Victorian state Capitol once embodied the ''Battle of Styles, '' melding layers of 19th-century architects into a final label - ''Richardsonian'' - the Albany Mall is the stamp of a single, mid-20th-century style, aloof and autocratic.
Perhaps such contrasts between the heritage of the Republic's earlier public architecture and the sorry structures it has sired account for the willingness of individual states to care once again for their state capitols. Officials across America have begun to polish their star-spangled-banner buildings.
On July 29, a $49 million supplemental appropriation was signed to repair the West Facade of the United States Capitol in Washington (in lieu of a controversial $73 million for a Capitol extension).
The money will provide for an X-ray study and cleanup of the walls, a rehabilitation of the terraces, and a reanchoring of the veneer, which dropped 16 blocks of sandstone this spring. Congress also slapped the offending hand of Capitol architect George White by requiring a consultant to oversee the full job.
We can credit the Bicentennial in 1976 for the revival of such popular interest; and scholarly concern was sparked by the appearance of a giant study on the subject by art historians Henry Hitchcock and William Seale.
''Capitols were among the most costly architectural projects of the 19th century,'' they wrote in ''Temples of Democracy'' (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). ''It took nerve, some design talent, and a clever tongue to win jobs. Mingled with the lure of profit was the prospect of expressing oneself in mighty spaces and material lavishness.''
A source of devotion and a center for political controversy, the capitol is as much an icon of American architecture as the skyscraper, they argued. And from the evidence, many of the 50 states have been receptive to that attitude in the last decade.
The Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford - the ''siren's song'' that caused a scandal - is under repair; workers have almost finished refurbishing the crowning structure on the hill in Connecticut. In Massachusetts, work to restore Charles Bulfinch's State House will soon begin.
And this spring, Sacramento won an American Institute of Architects award for a $67 million restoration of the California State Capitol. That job entailed dismantling the building to meet modern earthquake codes, and then completely remaking it.
This spring, too, thousands of lights in Mississippi's New Capitol at Jackson , recently refurbished, lit the night to mark the completion of work there, while a revival of architect Call Gilbert's State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., was just completed, according to John Moffert of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Southeast region.
The work proceeds apace, Mr. Moffert says, but it is along a battle-strewn path. In Atlanta, for instance, lovers of the neoclassical facade of the old Georgia Capitol now lead a fight against the attempt to drive a bridge ''like a stake'' to connect the fine old facade to a new structure.
''As a people, we tend to like what our grandparents have created,'' says David Zdunczyk, assistant director of the Albany architectural restoration. ''We tend to dislike what our parents have done, but we venerate what our great-grandparents have built.''
But capitols of the revered vintage are punctured with disrepair, grime, bad lighting, and inadequate safety standards. Such problems scored Albany's Capitol. Acres of marble, carved stonework, gilt applied inch after endless inch , and all the glorious flamboyance from dome to column characterize the superb Victorian edifice.
''Probably . . . without peer as a building in which architecture and politics are intermingled,'' wrote one historian, the Capitol is ''an essay in stone on the American democratic system.''
But with various additions, from black paint on the skylight to the Dewey era's stained glass or the 1960s bulletproof glass installed in the Senate chambers, the building bore the marks of time.
Although 20th-century politics plays its part in restorations, the work of architects Mendel, Mesick, Cohen & Waite on the Senate lounge and chambers enhances the old or intelligently inserts the new.
Such complementary contemporary crafts as stained glass windows by Hilda Sachs, or heavy metal gates of sculptural elegance by Albert Paley, or a handsome cartoon-lined private room, show the architects' capacity to research the old while avoiding its excesses.
One can quarrel with issues of taste (less spotty, more lustrous carpeting would look better; and new-old light fixtures recall architect Henry Hobson Richardson's description of ''a demoralized string of onions''). But the level of quality and caring is high, and should serve as a model for the next phase of restoration, here and elsewhere.
At this point, the temporary state commission on the Capitol has prepared a master plan and will attempt to raise private funds for further work. It has already begun the work on the Great Western Staircase, truly one of the wonders of these state capitols. Alone, the carved stone stairway, executed according to H. H. Richardson's instructions by Isaac Perry, merits as much money as the funds that created the rapid expanses of the mall across the street.
Sterile new government offices elsewhere create the same distaste as the mall. From the Hawaii State Capitol Building of 1969, arcaded with a bland mix of the imagery of a palm tree and a Greek Revival column, to the stage-set paste-ups that architect Edward Durrell Stone has designed for new capitols, bureaucrats, and especially their constituency, have recognized that the banal new buildings lack identity.
How then to create successor spaces to complement the old or simply maintain its expensive exuberance? That is, as it has been, a problem: In the past, capitol construction was surrounded by a morass of corruption.
''I, being no diplomat and my own master, would very probably have exploded, '' Bertrand Goodhue described the 1930s process from which the splendid Nebraska State Capitol emerged.
Committee director Zdunczyk hopes Albany will avoid the political fracas with a committee of preservationists and architectural devotees insulated from the politics of their day. It is not a new wish (''I hope the cause of art will prevail,'' said Richard Upjohn, architect of the Connecticut Capitol). But it is strengthened by the new enthusiasm for these prideful symbols of statehood in our day.