The neo-Gothic church sits on Fifth Avenue across from Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Completed in 1878, it was designed by renowned architect James Renwick, Jr. Today, it’s one of the city’s most iconic places of worship and a National Historic Landmark that sees an influx of over 5 million visitors each year. The cathedral has been added on to and renovated extensively since first opening; MBB Architects most recently completed a $177 million restoration of the building in 2015. This isn’t the first time St. Patrick’s has been subject to some form of terrorism. In 1914 and 1915, respectively, a small bomb exploded on the northwest corner of the cathedral and a trio of Italian anarchists tried to detonate a bomb inside the church. While St. Patrick's Cathedral was only threatened with potential arson this week, a beloved parish uptown actually did get some real heat. The crypt at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic Revival structure in the world, caught fire on Sunday morning. New York Daily News reported that a small blaze broke out at 10 a.m. and was extinguished by the fire department in under an hour. Located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, the late-19th-century piece of architecture was most recently renovated in 2008 after a 2001 fire swept through the north transept of the church, damaging the gift shop and a bit of its famous Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. In 2017, the building and its historic grounds were designated a New York City Landmark.
UPDATE: Marc Lamparello, 37, of New Jersey, has been charged with Attempted Arson, Reckless Endagerment and Trespassing. https://t.co/PYuOrqo1zS— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 18, 2019
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In the wake of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, cities around the world are surely taking note on how to best preserve and protect local architectural landmarks. In New York, two highly-trafficked churches, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, have already come under closer watch. Vice News reported that on Wednesday night, New York City Police counterterrorism officers arrested Marc Lamparello, an adjunct lecturer in philosophy at Lehman College, who walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral with four gallons of gas, several bottles of lighter fluid, and a handful of lighters. While officials are still unsure whether he planned to commit a crime, the 37-year-old suspect was “emotionally disturbed,” police said. Lamparello has been charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and trespassing as of this afternoon, according to the NYPD News's Twitter.
The world watched in total shock on Monday evening as a devastating fire ravaged parts of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. For a moment it looked like the French landmark might be lost completely, but firefighters acted quickly to save the 850-year-old Gothic church. Though a battered version of its former self, Notre Dame still stands today largely because its 226-foot twin bell towers were kept from ruin. “The bell towers are actually like bookends,” noted Thomas Leslie, a Gothic structures specialist and the Morrill Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University. “They keep the last vaults from toppling over or spreading out. A lot of people know that flying buttresses are supporting the vaults in one direction from the exterior, but those vaults also want to collapse along the nave. If stone bell towers, which have wooden structures inside them, had ignited and had collapsed, the whole cathedral could have come down in an instant.” In other words, at some point the Paris Fire Brigade made the decision to stop focusing on the expansive roof fire, and spend its resources on the stone bell towers, both of which date back to the mid-13th century. “The roof was a lost cause and they knew it wasn’t going to lead to the collapse of the building’s skeleton,” asserted Leslie. When the fire began around 6:50 p.m. on Monday, panic spread throughout the world about the Notre Dame’s potential downfall. A roof fire, by most standards, is catastrophic. But what much of the media didn’t realize at first, Leslie argued, was that the wooden roof was detached from the structure itself and couldn’t trigger the building's total collapse. Enough heat, however, could melt the masonry over the nave—the stonework on the structure was already under close watch. For the past few years, Notre Dame has been undergoing an extensive, $6.8 million restoration. A piece of medieval construction, it’s been renovated and added onto several times in its history. The 315-foot-tall oak spire that fell in the fire was designed by French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and installed in 1860 after the French Revolution and the elements had damaged the structure. Luckily, the 16 copper statues of the 12 apostles and four evangelists that sat at the spire’s base were removed for cleaning just last week and thus spared from the fire. Along with the stone bell towers, the famed trio of round stained-glass windows survived the fire, including the famous South Rose window, which was donated by King St. Louis in 1260. The deputy mayor of Paris said Notre Dame’s 8,000-pipe Great Organ also sustained the event though it did suffer repairable damages. Several news outlets have reported the church’s irreplaceable art and artifacts were rescued and transferred to the Louvre Museum for safe keeping. While these elements were saved, there’s a gaping hole left now in the nave less than 48 hours after the fire, exposing the interior of the cathedral. For Leslie, it’s the water damage done by the fire squad that’s even more concerning. “When you walk into a cathedral, what you see on the inside is the stone vaulting, there for structural and spatial reasons,” he said. “The timber roof above it essentially for weatherproofing. It keeps rain, snow, and ice off the limestone vaults. I noticed through images that water had pretty clearly penetrated the mortar joints in the surviving vaults. Limestone and lime mortar are both vulnerable to fire in the sense that they don’t burn, they turn into powder.” Securing the existing stonework within Notre Dame and protecting it from weather-damage in the near future are undoubtedly top of mind for the temporary restoration effort moving forward. For the long term, President Emmanuel Macron has promised a rebuild and people have already pledged over $900 million towards the planned reconstruction. Even an international competition to redesign the spire ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris has already been launched. Lisa Ackerman, interim CEO for the New York–based World Monument Fund, noted the energy of the moment. “The good thing about all this is that we live in a world where you find out about tragedies instantly and we’ve found both the outpouring of financial support for Notre Dame to be tremendous, as well as the outpouring of assistance from experts who can help rebuild." For example, the late art historian Andrew Tallon from Vassar College had scanned the entire cathedral with an accuracy within five millimeters. His detailed work is laid out in a stunning 3D laser map of Notre Dame, a piece of pivotal documentation that will likely be used in the restoration efforts. Even the popular video game Assassin’s Creed Unity, which is set in Paris, could be helpful. It’s publisher, Ubisoft, has offered expertise. Collecting global documentation of Notre Dame will help in the upcoming work to stabilize the building for centuries to come. Integrating fire-safe products in the reconstruction, said Ackerman, will help ensure a catastrophic disaster like this doesn’t happen again. “Preservation is always an act of negotiating the past with the present and the visual aesthetic qualities of the structure with new knowledge we have about materials,” she said. “The greatest danger to a historic building is when people think its issues are permanently resolved. Hopefully this was a reminder that many of the sites we take for granted actually have needs and must be continually repaired and investigated for their own wellbeing. If we defer maintenance, we endanger buildings in ways that are clearly unimaginable.”
This is the sixteenth in a series of guests posts that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours! When Sarah Rosenblatt of Murphy Burnham & Buttrick (MBB) and Ricardo Viera of Building Conservation Associates, Inc. (BCA) say that they touched every square inch of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during its three-year restoration, they aren’t kidding. From surveying each piece of stained glass window to washing individual blocks of marble and cleaning the 7,855-pipe gallery organ, this project was nothing short of detailed—and all done without closing the cathedral for a single day. Today’s tour highlighted the comprehensive restoration of the 137-year-old cathedral and the countless hours of collaboration that it took to accomplish this massive achievement. Our tour began across the street from the cathedral’s main entrance. From the Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center, we studied the building’s south side façade. Rosenblatt and Viera explained the original design and construction process by American architect James Renwick, Jr. Thanks to a thorough cleaning job using micro-abrasion technology, from our perspective you could easily see the color and texture gradations in the various types of marble chosen through each construction phase in the mid-to-late 1800s. Once a dreary gray due to years of pollution and exposure to rainwater, the seven types of marble and three granites that make up this historic cathedral are more lustrous than ever. Not only did the exterior become significantly lighter during the restoration, but the interior was fully brightened as well. “The building really sings now,” said Rosenblatt as we entered the cathedral’s nave. Renwick’s original vision for the Gothic Revival construction featured a white, bright, and airy interior with natural light filtering in from the stained glass windows and the lay lights in the ten chapels that surround the pews. After reviewing Renwick’s archival drawings, the team discovered and revealed those lay lights, which had been covered for the last 55 years. The deteriorating interior ceiling—plaster fixed to wood lath ribs—was also inspected for repairs and then cleaned and repainted, further brightening the 397-foot space. To convince the Archdiocese to allow such a radical and time-consuming restoration on the interior, the project team first completed one small section of the north transept, unveiling a night-to-day transformation. BCA’s Viera showed before and after photos to the tour group, calling what they did a “big understatement” compared to the project’s full potential. It’s been over 70 years since the cathedral’s last major renovation in the 1940s. Overdue for a new birth of sorts, it went through 33,000 individual repairs. New fire suppression and geothermal mechanical systems were also installed to increase safety and reduce energy consumption. Our tour ended on Madison Avenue, examining the exterior detailing of Lady Chapel. After observing all the ornamentation in the interior roof bosses, on the column capitals, and the spires that top out around the building, Rosenblatt noted how much unknown embellishment they found during surveying. “There’s so much going on that you don’t see from down here on the street or in the nave,” she said. “But I guess the point is that God can see it.” About the author: Sydney Franklin is a content producer at the NYC Department of Design and Construction. She recently graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in architectural journalism.
In 2009, the French Ministry of Culture began an $18 million restoration of the medieval Chartres Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 50 miles southwest of Paris. By 2017, the Gothic structure is intended to look similar to the original 1194–1250 construction. However, as the past 765 years of dirt and grime are erased, critics are denouncing the project. To cleanse the interior of candle and oil grime, the French Ministry of Culture is painting the interior masonry its original color, a creamy-white. However, the freshly painted masonry looks out of place against the undulating stone floor. And now, the floor, worn by centuries of pilgrims, looks filthy against the freshly painted walls. Originally, the vaults were illuminated by candles that hung from the columns and natural light that filtered through the stained glass windows. Now, the space is lit with bright, 21st century lighting. Martin Filler, in his blog on the New York Review of Books website, accused Patrice Calvel, former architect in chief of the French Ministry of Culture, of a destruction similar to “adding arms to the Venus de Milo.” In an article in Le Figaro, Adrien Goetz compared it to “watching a film in a cinema where they haven’t switched off the lights.” Calvel defended his “vacuum cleaning,” saying, “It has the full weight of the administration of state, historians and architects who decided over a 20-year period what would be done.” But when asked whether or not parishioners were consulted, Calvel said, “I’m very democratic, but the public is not competent to judge.” Calvel’s research unveiled that in medieval times, “everything was painted.” However, Calvel will not paint the exterior, saying, “If we tried to do that on the outside I would be hanged.” Stefan Evans, Franco Scardino, Leila Amineddoleh, and Adachiara Zevi started a petition, Save Chartres Cathedral, to stop the renovation. The four sponsors believe Chartres’s restoration violates the 1964 Venice Charter, which prohibits the addition of new construction, demolition, or modification of historic buildings in ways that change the original composition and color. Save Chartres Cathedral has 573 supporters and counting. The petition can be signed here.
This miniature Italian Gothic cathedral by Pratt alum Ryan McAmis gets every teeny tiny detail right
The devil is in the microscopic details in this miniature model of an Italian gothic cathedral by illustrator and graphic designer Ryan McAmis. The Pratt Institute alum has built the Renaissance interior and exterior from scratch with arresting realism, right down to the furnishings, wall tombs, and iconic paintings. The Brooklyn-based artist used materials from hand-scribed brickwork on treated paper, to clay and wood for the most true-to-life effect. He then combines all the materials and creates a silicon mold to strengthen it and casts the pieces in white plastic, which he then hand paints. To achieve the correct scale, the artist mapped out the structure using computer vector modeling. He reverts again to the computer to render the stained-glass windows, which he lays out on Photoshop and then prints on a transparency. He then uses a small clay tool to burnish every little piece and give it the appearance of regular panes of 600-year-old leaded glass. The granite flooring, too, is designed on Photoshop and printed on archival paper. The paper is then glued to the floor, varnished, and sanded several times, while the clay tool is again enlisted to scribe the tiles. Most enrapturing of all is the apse – the very back of the cathedral beneath which the high altar sits – clad in ultramarine blue and gold stars inspired by the ceiling in the Scrovegni Chapel in Veneto, Italy, painted by Giotto Bondone. “Blue was the most expensive color in the late medieval period. It was made from Lapiz Lazuli imported from Afghanistan,” McAmis writes on his website. Meanwhile, the wall tomb in the apse is inspired by Renaissance funerary monuments, such as Bernardo Rossellino’s design for the tomb of Leonardo Bruni in the church of Santa Croce in Florence. The top of McAmis' wall tomb bears the bust of St. Mark’s, flanked by busts of Putto at the corners. Inside the church are fixtures such as the Savonarola, a Renaissance folding chair, and a miniature framed painting of the Madonna and child. In an interview with Daily Mini, McAmis revealed that while he would love to install an operative secret passage or gargoyle fountain, inside the funerary wall monuments are hidden mementos of his recently deceased cat, Leo – a fang, a bundle of whiskers and a lock of fur.
A renovation and addition bring an historic church complex into the 21st century.The Diocese of Toronto approached architectsAlliance (aA) about renovating the St. James Cathedral Centre with two objectives in mind. On a practical level, they wanted more space for the cathedral’s outreach program and the Diocesan archives, as well as quarters for the Dean of the Cathedral and visitors. At the same time, the Anglican leadership wanted to make a statement about the Church’s relevance to contemporary Canadian society. “The idea of the addition was to convey an image of the Church itself as a kind of more open institution, much more transparent and contemporary,” said aA’s Rob Cadeau. “[It was] really driven by the dean, who wanted to refresh the image of the Church.”The architects designed the addition to the Parish Hall as a glass cube. “There’s a lot of use of glass, both as a contemporary material, but also to convey that idea of transparency, for the symbolism of the project,” said Cadeau. At the same time, the see-through extension “defers to the old building. It doesn’t take away from the presence of the old building as opposed to solid masonry construction.” The upper stories of the stick system curtain wall are wrapped in a floating sunscreen comprising repeating bands of laminated glass. “It was very important to the church that there be a sort of green aspect to the design in the way it’s conceived and constructed,” said Cadeau. “So the sunscreen was designed as a passive means of providing shading.” To maximize shading during the summer and solar gain during the winter, aA ran the sunscreen design through shadow analysis testing in ArchiCAD. They worked with Stouffville Glass to engineer both the sunscreen and the curtain wall. The sunscreen hangs on a vertical system of stainless steel brackets anchored to the HSS beams surrounding the slab edge of the second and third floors. The glass panels’ interlayer is printed with a linear pattern recalling the original building’s narrow button bars. “The idea of the lines within the sunscreen was to create a finer grain of detail on the glass,” explained Cadeau. The curtain wall itself is built of Solarban 60 glass. “It still provides the U value we wanted, but we didn’t want too much reflectivity because it’s a fairly small building,” said Cadeau. The firm also improved the thermal performance of the original Parish Hall building, which opened in 1910. With help from a building envelope consultant, they ran a thermal analysis of the structure to determine how much spray foam insulation to insert between the masonry wall and a new stud wall. The goal was to boost insulation while allowing some heat transfer. “That’s very important in heritage upgrades,” said Cadeau. “[T]he mistake you can make is over-insulating. Masonry walls rely in some sense of heat loss so that the water [trapped inside] never freezes. If the water absorbed in the brick freezes it will start to crack the brick.” The new St. James Cathedral Centre unites a previously disconnected cluster of buildings across an enclosed courtyard. In that way, aA suggests, the glass addition functions as a contemporary cloister. “In a larger, urban planning sense [the objective] was to complete the ensemble of buildings, create more of a connection between the buildings as a whole,” said Cadeau.