Page B1.2 . 29 March 2006                     
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    Sacramental Restoration


    "It had undergone a series of renovation campaigns over time that really, I think, took away from the original design intent," Shepherd continues. "One of the things that we wanted to be a top priority was to restore the interior and introduce some design components that made the interior read as a homogeneous design that incorporated both new elements and restored old ones."

    Reinforcing Old Bones

    One of the greatest challenges undertaken by the design and construction team, which included structural engineer Nabih Youssef & Associates and Vanir Construction Management, was actually one of the least visible: the seismic retrofit. The team collaborated in the design and installation of new concrete and rebar supports and collector beams.

    "I think the seismic upgrade was one of the biggest focuses of the restoration because it required that the load-bearing masonry walls and the timber roof trusses all be tied together so they worked as a unified structure," Shepherd says. "In order to do that, we had to be very creative about meshing the concrete and steel into the historic load-bearing masonry and then also tying the roof timbers to the vertical masonry walls."

    The architect and structural engineer introduced 12-inch- (30-centimeter-) thick shotcrete (a sprayable mix of cement, water, and sand) at the side tower walls and concrete beams that are meshed into the attic and other walls. All of this had to be carved into the existing masonry and then covered up.

    The most visibly dramatic endeavor was to remove the truncated dome that had been installed during a 1930s renovation and to restore the cathedral's original vaulted dome. No one is sure why an almost flat ceiling had been installed in the 30s, concealing the dramatic dome interior, but it probably had to do with acoustics.

    Luckily, however, when the flatter dome was installed, the 30s builders went to extra effort and expense to ensure that the original dome was preserved, if hidden. They had installed a series of hidden steel trusses to support the truncated dome.

    "In order to get those in place," Shepherd explains, "they literally had to jack up the historic wood structure of the old dome. It would have been much easier and probably less expensive for them to just take out the wood structure of the old dome, but they didn't."

    Decorative Reenactments

    What the 1930s intervention didn't preserve, however, was any of the original finishes and decorative painting. As a result, the new restoration team conducted extensive research working from century-old newspaper articles and a few historic drawings to come up with a proper guide for the new decorative elements. Working with EverGreene Painting Studios and Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, the architects directed an ornate new decorative paint scheme for the dome illuminated by new lighting fixtures.

    A later 1970s renovation was an implementation of Vatican 2 changes in liturgical design. This had a major impact on interior space, with the altar removed from the east wall and placed at the crossing of the cathedral below the dome. But the 1970s designers didn't make any liturgical use of the east end, which became a space for chair storage.

    Shepherd says that area played prominently in the architects' initial conversations with the client. "What do we do with that east end? And how do we make that space that was rendered useless by the 1970s changes into something that could really be used and celebrated?" The architects responded by designing a new chapel for worship of the tabernacle. A 1980s renovation had added wall-to-wall carpeting, which, of course, was far from the original design intent of 1889. Beyer Blinder Belle removed the carpet and designed new elements that better integrate Vatican 2-mandated changes in liturgical design with the historic architecture.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    Before restoration, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, in Sacramento, California. The flattened central dome was part of a 1930s modification.
    Photo: David Wakely

    ArchWeek Image

    After restoration, the vaulted dome designed by Bryan Clinch is once again visible.
    Photo: David Wakely

    ArchWeek Image

    Diagram of seismic retrofits.
    Image: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

    ArchWeek Image

    The interior of a column undergoing reinforcement.
    Photo: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

    ArchWeek Image

    New column.
    Photo: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

    ArchWeek Image

    The cathedral's seismic upgrade was ultimately covered up.
    Photo: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

    ArchWeek Image

    New beam, part of seismic upgrade.
    Photo: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

    ArchWeek Image

    Section through the north tower.
    Image: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners


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