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St. Patrick’s Cathedral Conservation, Renovation and Systems Upgrade

Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Associates

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Text by Ian Volner

Anyone walking past New York’s landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral cannot help but wonder at the way it has suddenly taken on an almost luminous gleam—a startling shift from its former gunmetal gray, closer to the typical hue of Manhattan’s granite office towers. The church’s new look can be credited to New York’s Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects, the firm that oversaw a massive renovation over the course of the last three years. Originally the work of pioneering Gothic revivalist James Renwick Jr., the building has long served as an iconic backdrop for statesmen and popes (including the current one, who reopened it last fall) since its completion in 1888, but it has also suffered all of the attendant stresses, overuse, and exposure to the urban elements. Decorative columns were riven with cracks; mechanical elements had become outdated; and, of course, the city had done its exhaust-choked best to darken the façade. All of this called for a comprehensive restoration, the building’s first since the 1940s, that would eventually draw in nearly 200 specialists and outside consultants at a total cost of $177 million. On the exterior, micro-abrasion techniques cleaned the façade, smoothed concrete patches, and repointed ornamental details; inside, the plastered ceiling was repainted a pristine white, and new fire-safety systems were installed that blend almost invisibly with the existing interior. In total, more than 30,000 individual repairs were undertaken, each one meticulously checked against Renwick’s original design, transforming a building that seemed so familiar to so many into something no one had seen for a century and more.

Project Credits
Project: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York
Client/Owner: Trustees of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Owner’s Representative: Zubatkin Owner Representation
Architect: Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects, New York . Jeffrey Murphy, FAIA (partner-in-charge); Harold Buttrick, FAIA, Mary Burnham, AIA (partners); Rolando Kraeher, AIA (project manager); Dawid Pol, AIA (architect); Sarah Rosenblatt, Megan Rispoli (preservation architects)
Construction Manager: Structure Tone
Restoration Consultant: Building Conservation Associates
M/E/P Consultant: Landmark Facilities Group
Structural Engineer: Silman Associates
Stained Glass Preservationist: Jean Phifer, FAIA
Stained Glass and Window Restoration: Botti Studio of Architectural Arts
Door Restoration Consultant: Mary Kay Judy
Code Consultant: William Dailey
Landscape Architecture: Robin Key Landscape Architecture
Lighting Consultant: Fisher Marantz Stone
Elevator Consultant: Van Deusen & Associates
Cost Consultant: Christopher Slocum
Security Consultant: Ducibella Venter & Santore
M/E/P Acoustics: Cerami & Associates
AV Consultants: Jaffe Holden; Abel Cine Tech
Geotechnical Engineer & Surveyors: Langan Engineering; GB Geotechnics USA
Stained Glass Consultants: Drew Anderson; Keith Barley
M/E/P Commissioning: Aramark
Fire Prevention Consultant: Arup Fire; Northeast Energy Services
Construction Specifications: Aaron Pine
Glass Consultants: Eckersley O’Callaghan; Heintges
Geothermal Consultant: PW Grosser Consulting
Size: 140,000 square feet
Cost: $177 million

This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of ARCHITECT magazine.

For ARCHITECT's complete, behind-the-scenes report on the renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral by Emily Hooper, go here.

Project Description


MBB is leading a phased project to fully restore the Cathedral Complex, which includes exterior stone conservation, interior stone, wood and plaster restoration, and stained glass stabilization and conservation. All mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems will be replaced and the complex will be heated and cooled with a new, nine well geothermal plant. The Parish House project will double existing non-cathedral program space. The project has been featured in a wide range of media including the New York Times, The History Channel and Channel 2 News. The Cathedral conservation project won the 2014 Copper Development Association's North American Copper in Architecture Award and the Rectory won the 2012 Lucy G. Moses Award by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
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