St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Architect: Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects
Location: New York City, New York
AIA awards Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects’ St. Patrick’s Cathedral Conservation as a recipient of the 2016 Institute Honor Awards for Architecture.
Since 1853, St. Patrick's Cathedral has stood as a soaring icon of the spiritual life of New Yorkers. Despite careful regular maintenance, by the early 21st century, this landmark Catholic cathedral in midtown Manhattan was in need of revitalization. Stone and plaster failure and deterioration of the stained glass were considerable.
A renovation launched in 2005 touched every building surface, from the top of its 330-foot spires to the bottom, inside and out. At the same time, innovative mechanical and life-safety systems were installed, with minimal intrusion on the splendid visual pleasures of the cathedral.
"An extraordinary restoration; really incredible technology and the coordination during construction was remarkable." ~ Jury comment
The work was minutely detailed, including a forensic analysis to determine the precise specifications that the original architect, James Renwick, Jr., made for interior paint and exterior stone mortar. More than 30,000 individual repairs were made, and the team used a tablet-based software program that allowed for real-time tracking of the work, directly from the scaffolding. The project included cleaning the exterior stone, a type of marble quarried in the region around Manhattan at the time of construction, with a micro-abrasive technology of low-pressure water, air and crushed glass, and where there was more tenacious staining from the copper accessories such as downspouts, with a clay poultice that draws impurities off the stone.
Meanwhile, the potential for future damage was reduced by such strategies as the choice of a mist-style fire suppression system. In the event of a fire in the attic of the church's nave, it will require just one-tenth the water to suppress the fire that a conventional sprinkler system will use. Effectively, it will protect both lives and the historic building.
Carrying the building forward was an integral part of the overhaul. A key element of that aspect was installation of a new closed-loop geothermal system that will rely on below-ground temperatures to displace 240 tons of air conditioning power and participate in winter heating as well. These elements will ensure that parishioners will be comfortable—or perhaps more comfortable than ever before—for the next century of services in an iconic landmark.