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Vancouver church wins heritage award for upgrades

Peter Caulfield
Vancouver church wins heritage award for upgrades
COURTESY RYDER ARCHITECTURE — Ryder Architecture and RJC Engineers have won a Heritage Conservation Award from the City of Vancouver for their work on St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church.

An upgrade of St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church has won a 2023 Vancouver Heritage Award.

The church was one of the winners in the Heritage Conservation category.

“This award recognizes the sensitive conservation and seismic upgrade of this iconic neo-Gothic church,” said the judges,

St. Andrew’s-Wesley opened its doors at the corner of Burrard and Nelson in Vancouver’s west end in 1933.

The Gothic Revival structure featured such local materials as Nelson Island granite and Haddington Island stone, a soaring vaulted interior timber roof and French and Italian stained-glass windows.

But age does not lie; the church is almost 100 years old.

Its leaky roof required extensive repairs and steel reinforcing needed to be added to bring the building up to current seismic standards.

Collaborating on the project were Ryder Architecture (Vancouver), RJC Engineers, the structural and building envelope consultant, in consultation with Donald Luxton & Associates, the heritage consultants.

“Our role on the project was to support RJC by managing the interior renovations and the exterior enhancements,” said Adam James, Ryder Architecture principal.

Ryder used Building Information Modeling (BIM) to integrate design and construction.

“We used BIM to create a point cloud that could be correlated with architectural drawings to create a 3D model, as well as a virtual record of the building,” said James.

He described the process as “using a 21st-century skill-set to analyze and facilitate remediation and upgrades that retain the building’s heritage value for the next hundred years.”

The church’s upgrade took two years to complete and was the first significant work on the building since it was constructed.

The refurbishment was thorough and extensive.

The terracotta elements, granite and stone facades were repaired and a new copper roof, copper gutters and down pipes were added.

Interior structural work involved removing plaster from the walls and vaults.

Fibreglass moulds of the plaster elements were made so they could be re-cast and installed to make a replica of the original form and joint lines.

The plaster was then painted to match the original finishes and texture and the interior’s original character.

The stained-glass windows required only minor repairs. The interior woodwork was touched up with several coats of oil to refresh and restore the original finish.

Plaster coffers in the sanctuary were cleaned and restored to their original colour; the chapel’s painted wood ceiling was rehydrated to restore its stenciled colours.

There were also some modern accessibility and mobility aid additions, in the form of ramps and audio-visual systems.

“I’ve worked on many different kinds of cultural and heritage resource management projects over 40 years,” said Donald Luxton. “St. Andrews-Westley was definitely one of the most challenging.”

The renovation had to make up for 100 years of neglect of the building, Luxton said.

“The building housing the church had been built during the 1930s Depression, and the congregation at the time didn’t have much money to spend on the church,” he said. “For example, the floors were made of vinyl tile, not stone, and the pews were second-hand and failing. The building was worn out.”

Luxton said there was no commercial angle to the project and therefore no need to make compromises for commercial reasons.

“The congregation wanted to bring an old church back to life, preserve its history and to spend its money well,” he said.

The original structure had been built of concrete with no reinforcement and stone on the exterior.

“The team put a new building inside the old one and my job was to make it look good,” Luxton said. “The original plaster work interior was failing and falling apart. Now there’s a new stone floor, new plaster work and everything is100 per cent up to the building code.”

The project had its challenges, he said.

“We hired small specialized local craftsmen,” said Luxton. “But there is a limited number of them in the Lower Mainland and many of them were busy with other projects.”

On top of that, the project took place during the pandemic, which made it more complicated.

“But we had a great team and we made it work,” said Luxton. “Now St. Andrews-Wesley looks the same as it was, but it’s in much better condition.”

In addition to St. Andrews-Westley United Church, there were 15 other award winners of the 2023 Vancouver Heritage Awards.

The awards were in three categories: Living heritage, heritage conservation and education and awareness.

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