ST MARY OF THE ANGELS

PROJECT TYPE: HERITAGE

USE: CATHOLIC CHURCH

LOCATION: BOULCOTT STREET, WELLINGTON

CLIENT: ST MARY OF THE ANGELS TRUST

ARCHITECTS: BULLEYMENT FORTUNE

PROJECT TIMEFRAME: 2015-2017

The re-opening of St Mary of the Angels after three years’ re-strengthening featured on national television in April 2017. The church looks magnificent with no indication of the massive structural works behind the new paint and plaster that have brought it up to nearly 100% of the building code.

Designed in 1918 by Frederick Jersey de Clere, St Mary’s is believed to be the first reinforced gothic church in the world. It was closed after earthquakes in 2013.

The $9.5 million re-strengthening was funded out of grants and donations so tight budgets led to a number of innovations. One was an internal rolling gantry, similar to a huge waterfront crane, that supported the roof and walls while each of the church’s 10 massive portals was worked on.

Traditional methods would have meant putting up then dismantling extensive scaffolding for each portal. But rolling the gantry from portal to portal slashed months off the programme. With the constant risk of further earthquakes, the gantry also provided a safe overhead structure for the workers below.

Another innovation was 3-D imaging to replicate each of the portals and columns. They were scanned to the millimetre with a high-tech, point-cloud scanner to create a 3-D model. From that, latex moulds were developed, boxed up on four sides and filled with high-strength, self-compacting concrete. The new columns look identical to those they had replaced but with their rods of reinforced steel and ties into new ground beams, they are vastly stronger. The LTM team takes a lot of pride in the fact that most visitors who marvel at the restored interior think the portals and columns are originals.

St Mary’s passed its first big test with flying colours, a 7.8 earthquake in November 2016 after the structural works had been completed. Engineers couldn’t find a single crack. Wellington has around 600 earthquake-prone buildings and many owners are looking at St Mary’s as an example of what can be achieved. Visitors from Christchurch and Auckland, including Anglican Church members, city officials and engineers, have also come to see what can be learnt.

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