St. Patrick’s Cathedral Restoration Project
Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects
(The full project profile is available for download below)
By Michael Mills, FAIA
This project was a labor of love and commitment by the design and client team to carefully renew this New York City and world landmark over a nine year duration: 2006- 2015. It was a multi-faceted undertaking that included conservation, expansion, life safety improvements, and systems upgrades for the midtown Manhattan campus. (fig.1)
The Cathedral was designed by James Renwick, Jr., beginning in 1852, and the first mass was celebrated in a mostly completed building in 1879. By 2005, the Cathedral had reached a serious state of need. In response to the needs of the project, Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects (MBB) assembled a multi-disciplinary team and brought a large group to the interview to address the myriad issues. Selected for their understanding of the technical challenges and their attention to detail, MBB began the building assessment, programming, Code analysis, energy studies, and systems evaluations that defined the restoration program. In addition to the physical problems with the facility, the needs assessment revealed a lack of space for ministry which led to proposals for expansion of the Parish House and renovations to the Rectory.
The resulting $175 million dollar project encompassed conservation of all building elements and surfaces from the tops of the spires (fig.2) down to the terraces. The work included the conservation of marble, roofing, metals, plaster, wood, Beton Coignet (cast stone), and stained glass. In addition, outdated mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and life safety systems were updated or replaced. Construction was conducted while the Cathedral remained open for daily mass, welcoming the millions of visitors who pass through its doors every year. (fig.3)
Working closely with Building Conservation Associates, the team conducted forensic and archival research to determine the composition and colors of the original interior paint and the stone mortar specified by Renwick. Scanning technology was used to create accurate digital drawings of the Cathedral to supplement the original, archival drawings. BIM 360 Field, a Construction Management software run on I-Pads, was used to track and communicate status changes, from the scaffolding or the office, of over 30,000 individual repairs on the project. (fig.4)
The Cathedral’s setting in its urban environment led the team to implement innovative life safety and system upgrades. A mist fire suppression system enables a fire in the nave attic to be suppressed with 1/10th the water of a sprinkler system. A new, ten well, closed loop geothermal HVAC system will generate the required 240 tons of air conditioning and heating for the campus.
MBB Partner in Charge, Jeffrey Murphy, FAIA, indicated that during the development of the project, the recession actually gave time to consider options that might not have otherwise become a part of the project. The recession allowed time for budget development and fund raising to converge. Cardinal Dolan was a consistent and inspirational supporter of the design team and the workers. He saw an opportunity to improve the worship experience with more welcoming design initiatives. Some of these included: 1) taking out two rows of pews to encourage better circulation patterns during Holy Communion, 2) reconfiguring the Our Lady of Guadeloupe Chapel to be more accessible, 3) making the confessionals accessible to disabled priests and worshippers, and 4) creating an accessible bathroom in the building.
Restored to its original magnificence inside and outside, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is again a glowing landmark, which serves as the spiritual center of City of New York. (Fig. 5)
Firm Profile: Murphy, Burnham & Buttrick (MBB)
By Matthew Chalifoux, AIA
Founded in 1997, Murphy, Burnham & Buttrick (MBB) is a New York City-based firm led by partners Jeffrey Murphy, Mary Burnham and Sara Grant which is guided by a humanistic belief in architecture’s power to improve our lives. With a staff of 30 architects, designers and specialists the firm provides expertise in architecture, planning, interiors, preservation and sustainable design. As a smaller firm MBB functions as a single “studio”, with direct involvement of one of the partners on every project.
In describing the firm partner Jeffrey Murphy pointed out that the firm does not work exclusively on historic preservation projects but they do have staff with preservation experience that they can apply to a wide range of projects. “We’re really ‘institutional architects’” stated Murphy, “and many of our clients have existing buildings.” Depending on the project scope and the client MBB will then assemble a team of consultants that can address the specific technical preservation issues for that project. On a large project such as St. Patrick’s Murphy said that MBB provides not just architectural and design skills but also serves as an “orchestrator.” To Murphy the approach is to “build a really good team” and then show the client how this will benefit the project.
For the St. Patrick’s project over ten firms were being considered for the project. While preservation was a key component of the scope there were also significant issues with the building systems and even the programmatic space. Overall much of the work was “architectural”, not strictly preservation, as interventions were needed to meet the programmatic and operational needs of the Diocese while maintaining the iconic Cathedral. This type of collaborative team project fits the working model of MBB. They assembled a team of over twenty consultants, including preservation specialists in masonry, stained glass, wood doors and structure. While MBB as a firm was smaller than most being considered for the project they probably had the largest group at the interview. “We brought everybody to the interview,” said Murphy, “and the client was impressed by the team and the fact that they were all there from the beginning.”
The 2016 Honor award from AIA continues the recognition of MBB’s work from the National, New York State and City Chapters of the American Institute of Architects. For more information about the firm their past and current work go to www.mbbarch.com.
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