Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, New York City Building Renovation Project, Manhattan Architecture Images
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in NYC
April 5, 2023
Architecture: Ennead Architects
Location: Morningside Heights, New York, USA
Photos © Demian Neufeld
Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, Manhattan
Ennead Architects Completes Preservation of Guastavino Tile Dome for NYC’s Cathedral Church of St John the Divine
Internationally renowned architecture firm Ennead Architects completed its three-year preservation of the Crossing Dome at the heart of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Located in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, the landmark Cathedral has suffered years of deterioration, water infiltration and damage from a 2001 fire. Ennead designed a copper roof that provides the historic dome with permanent water-proofing, thermal insulation and improved structural integrity.
“It’s been our honor to work closely with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for more than 30 years,” said Kevin Seymour, Associate Principal at Ennead Architects. “As with all historic buildings of this size, continued restoration is essential for the survival of the structure. By conserving the dome with consideration to authenticity, we are protecting the Cathedral’s rich history, supporting its ever-changing nature and extending its life as a metropolitan monument.”
“Working closely to align with the cathedral’s priorities and concerns, we were privileged to have contributed to the enduring design within this magnificent landmark,” said Charles Brainerd, Senior Associate at Ennead Architects. “Our restoration harmonizes with the designs from a series of other architectural authors in the Cathedral’s century-plus existence, further enriching and honoring its history while reinforcing its integrity.”
“No one at the Cathedral remembers looking up into our remarkable Guastavino dome and seeing anything but darkness. Years of New York City soot, candle wax, and incense smoke had blackened it. Then there were two fires, 2001 and 2019. After the pandemic, the Cathedral was finally ready to clean the interior of the dome,” said The Very Reverend Patrick Malloy, Ph.D., Dean, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. “Ennead encouraged us not to stop there but to tackle the more demanding and costly task of restoring it.
The dome was meant to temporarily cover the Cathedral crossing until a massive tower could be built above it. As the New York Times recently reported, the ground under the Cathedral actually could not bear the weight of the proposed tower, so the dome is, de facto, the permanent roof of a large section of our enormous building. Now, cleaned and repaired, it glows.
Tour guides have always told visitors that the Statue of Liberty could fit under the Guastavino dome, but it was impossible to see just how high it was. Now you can, and you can admire and wonder at the remarkable tile work. This restoration is more than an architectural triumph. It restores for our visitors and all of us who worship and work at the Cathedral a sense of excitement and wonder, and a gratitude to our ancestors who were audacious enough to build the largest church in the United States here in Morningside Heights.”
Originally designed and constructed in 1909 by famed Spanish-American architect and master builder, Rafael Guastavino, the Cathedral’s dome is made of overlapping, self-supporting terra cotta tiles and was intended to be temporary. It is nearly 133 feet in diameter and spans across the Cathedral’s four great granite arches which define the Crossing. Subsequent designs called for completing the Crossing with towers or spires of various sizes, some of which presumed the removal of the ostensibly temporary tile dome. In 1916, just seven years after its construction, the ambitiously-scaled dome (the largest of its kind) had already begun to flatten, and the first of many repairs were performed.
The failings of successive short-term roofing membranes led to extensive rainwater infiltration to the dome itself and the arches that it sits on and was the impetus for the construction of a more durable solution. Ennead’s design utilizes a longer-term, batten-seam copper roof that fits in with the language of the adjacent historic copper roofs to provide the dome with thermal insulation and permanent waterproofing.
To address water infiltration, Ennead first removed the old sodden insulation, and allowed the tiles time to dry before repairs were made. Ennead and its consultant team, including Silman, Building Conservation Associates, Inc., and James R. Gainfort AIA Consulting Architects PC, then carefully assessed the conditions of the original Guastavino tiles, replacing loose, cracked and water-damaged tiles with new customized tiles for the Cathedral by Sandkuhl Clay Works.
The expansion and contraction of the dome due to daily and seasonal swings in temperature was reduced by the application of spray foam insulation to the surface of the tile dome. The copper for the dome matches the existing copper on the Cathedral’s adjacent choir and apse and will patina to a verdigris green over the next few decades, eventually matching the statue of the angel Gabriel that has stood on the apse roof since the early phases of the Cathedral’s construction. With proper maintenance it could last another 100 years.
Ennead has worked with the leadership of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine to support their stewardship of the historic buildings and grounds of their campus, called the Close, for more than 30 years. Guided by the Cathedral’s mission and programmatic priorities, Ennead has set the strategic direction and long-term architectural vision for the Close, while also addressing unexpected conditions and urgent repairs to keep the Close functional and accessible.
Through Ennead’s extensive research about the historical and technical issues related to the planning, design and construction of the Close, the firm has examined the shifting vision, layers of authorship and incremental construction which have evolved over more than a century. Today, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine campus is a rich and complex ensemble of buildings and landscape — making it an architecturally unique and invaluable precinct in New York City.
About Ennead Architects
Renowned for its innovative cultural, educational, scientific, commercial, and civic building designs that authentically express the progressive missions of their institutions and enhance the vitality of the public realm, Ennead has been a leader in the design world for decades.
The recipient of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution-Cooper Hewitt National Design Award, the AIANY Medal of Honor, and the National AIA Firm Award, as well as numerous design awards for individual buildings, Ennead has a body of work that is diverse in typology, scale, and location. The firm’s collaborative process is based in extensive research involving the analysis of context, program, public image, emerging technologies, and a commitment to sustainable solutions. www.ennead.com
Photography © Demian Neufeld
Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, New York City images/information received 050423
Architecture: Ennead Architects – https://www.ennead.com/
Location: Morningside Heights, New York City, USA
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