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Thursday, June 1 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Architecture) Preservation in “Cathedral-Time”: Conservation in the North Transept at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

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The preservation of the North Transept at the Cathedral Church of St. John Divine in New York City requires unique repair criteria as it is the stabilization of a modern ruin within an incomplete structure. A fire in December 2001 caused significant damage to the stone in this area of the Cathedral. The criteria established to repair the masonry varied from those used for typical ruin stabilization to permit future construction of the original Gothic design. The conservation treatments considered the interventions to the North Transept over the past 15 years and the significance of the deteriorated elements in the context of the original design, as well as the consequence of new repairs on potential future construction over the coming decades or centuries of the Cathedral's life.

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, located in New York City, was constructed in phases beginning in 1892. Construction of its North Transept began in 1927, as the Nave walls were beginning to rise. Foundation issues slowed its progress though, leaving the walls only 40 feet high when the full length of the Cathedral opened to the public in November of 1941. A week later the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred, and, as America entered World War II, the construction of the Cathedral was halted, leaving the Transept and other areas of the building incomplete. A wood framed roof with a bitumen coating was eventually installed over the partially completed North Transept, which served as a gift shop until December of 2001, when a fire broke out in its northeast corner.

The fire destroyed the Transept roof, and the heat of the fire coupled with the cold water from the fire hoses and winter air temperatures caused significant masonry damage within the Transept. The resultant smoke damage throughout the entire Cathedral spurred an interior restoration campaign that was completed in 2008. However, apart from removing debris and installing temporary protection at the top of some of the unfinished walls, little work was performed within the Transept itself. The area was closed to the public until 2013, when a temporary exhibit initiated a make-safe campaign to remove the then deteriorated temporary roofing and fire-damaged stone that had been exposed to the elements for over a decade. That same year, plans began for the installation of a new roof to cover the entire Transept, which is scheduled for completion in 2017. The new roofing campaign incorporated the stabilization of the fire damaged stone and cleaning of the façade, which exhibited significant staining from years of water infiltrating the tops of the walls and moving out through the face of the stone.

This paper will discuss the repair criteria and resultant treatments established to address the conditions within the Transept, which considered practical construction limitations as well as the nature of the living Cathedral in an attempt to balance the accepted loss of severely damaged material and minimal interventions to significant fabric.

avatar for Laura Buchner

Laura Buchner

Senior Conservator, Building Conservation Associates, Inc. (BCA)
Laura Buchner is a senior conservator and project manager at Building Conservation Associates, Inc. She has an undergraduate degree in English and physics, and she earned graduate degree in historic preservation from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture Planning and... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 11:00am - 11:30am CDT
Crystal Ballroom A Lobby Level, West Tower