ST. MARY’S HALL, BOSTON COLLEGE, CHESTNUT HILL, MA 2015

It is fitting that this last blog post of the year, the 50th building in 50 weeks relates to renewal. As we approach 2016, St. Mary’s Hall, built in 1917, is ready for its second hundred years after having undergone a top to bottom renovation and exterior restoration. It is also a suitable metaphor for the firm’s leadership transition as the original relationship with Boston College started with Frank DiMella nearly 20 years ago. Randy Kreie, a current firm principal has continued to nurture the relationship and along with his team has kept Boston College as a long term client.

BLENDING IN

Our first project for Boston College (BC) came by way of our Milton Fuller Senior Housing project in Milton, MA. Joe Corcoran and Tom Flatley were friends and both served on the board at Milton Fuller. Tom Flatley was also on the board at BC. Tom liked what we did for them and pulled Frank aside one day and said “I want you to talk to the folks at BC about a project they need to do that is in the sensitive historic Chestnut Hill district, and although it is for office space, it needs to feel like a sizable house compatible with its neighbors.” Well known for getting things approved in Newton and highly skilled at designing houses, Frank DiMella led the project with Randy as the Project Manager.

The Waul House, our first project for Boston College ─ compatible with its neighbors

Getting the Waul House, as the project became known, approved was a real challenge, not because of the Chestnut Hill Historic Commission who knew of and had high regard for our firm and the design we were proposing, but because the district alderman was against development in principal and BC in particular. Although it took many meetings, the Commission finally approved the project. We did similar designs for two other sites in the Hovey Triangle that BC owns, but they remain unbuilt and are not yet permitted. In the intervening years, we have completed approximately 30 projects on the BC campus from accessibility upgrades to the largest project and this week’s subject, St. Mary’s Hall.

Left: St. Mary

Left:  St. Mary’s Hall under construction       Right: Gasson Hall (right) and St. Mary’s shortly after completion (Photos courtesy of Boston College)

PROJECT DRIVERS

Originally constructed in 1917, the building served as the home for the Jesuit Order on campus and featured housing and common areas for 140 Jesuit faculty/residents.  The building also houses St. Mary’s Chapel on the ground floor. The renovation of Gasson Hall, the oldest building on campus, a few years earlier showed how time had similarly taken its toll on St. Mary’s Hall. Sitting on a prominent location in the middle of the historic campus, it was time for renewal.  In addition, the Jesuit community has seen a reduction in numbers over the years and there was an opportunity to right size their space while improving their accommodations with private baths and more storage. The common areas also needed a functional and aesthetic update. As you can imagine the building systems were at the end of their useful life and air conditioning was high on the list of priorities. Lastly, with the downsized Jesuit community, there was an opportunity for the Jesuit residence to share the excess space for academic programs in the center of campus. With these goals, planning began in 2008, was put on hiatus during the financial crisis, and picked up again in 2010 with conceptual studies and envelope assessment.

BACKGROUND RESEARCH

We learned that St. Mary’s Hall was the result of the efforts of three men named Charles-Charles W. Lyons, SJ, College President; Charles MaGinnis, the architect; and Charles Logue, the builder. The archives of the architecture firm MaGinnis and Walsh are held at the Boston Public Library and we were able to source the original drawings. From these documents we built a model of the building in Building Information Modeling (BIM) software that became the basis of our drawings. See the sample of original drawings and model below.

Original elevation drawing, with the chapel on the right

Original elevation drawing, with the chapel on the right

BIM model created by the design team and used for construction coordination showing new mechanicals hidden in the roof

BIM model created by the design team and used for construction coordination showing new mechanicals hidden in the roof

Early photos and drawings confirmed that there was a substantial addition in the 1930s that was compatible with the original building and even relocated the end facade. In the 1980s individual garages were added for the Jesuits in residence in a metal building structure unsympathetic to the original structure.

The wing at the top left, cloister and courtyard were added in the 1930s. The metal-faced garage was added in the 1980s.

The wing at the top left, cloister and courtyard were added in the 1930s. The metal-faced garage was added in the 1980s.

THE NEW PROGRAM

The building now houses independent apartments for up to 32 Jesuit residents and common area support including dining, library, recreation, music, a small chapel and office spaces.  The existing St. Mary’s Chapel includes restored finishes and the addition of a discrete air conditioning system.  The building’s south wing is used for Boston College Woods College of Advancing Studies as well as the Communication and Computer Science departments. The academic use is accessed by a new entrance designed in the gothic style for operation independent of the Jesuit housing.

Left: Renovated First Floor (click to enlarge) Right: Renovated Third Floor (click to enlarge)

Left: Renovated First Floor (click to enlarge)     Right: Renovated Third Floor (click to enlarge)

The first floor contains the original chapel, offices, reception, dining, and recreation spaces. The second, third, and fourth floor are split between Jesuit residence functions and academic space. The third floor contains a small private chapel and library for the Jesuits. The living accommodations were enlarged by half a bay providing each room with a private bathroom and large closet.

EXTERIOR RESTORATION

McGinley Kalsow & Associates, Inc. was a consultant to DiMella Shaffer and was responsible for designing an extensive repair and restoration program that included replacement of 18,000 pieces of cast stone with 15,000 new pieces, including window tracery and over 50 significant sculptural elements. All existing pudding stone was repaired and re-pointed. New windows were installed that are consistent with the original design intent of the building. Leaded and stained glass windows were meticulously restored and releaded. The garage addition was demolished and parking was added below the exterior rear courtyard in an underground garage designed by DiMella Shaffer, and the garden courtyard was re-established on top of the garage structure. The roof was replaced with a blend of glazed terra cotta tiles attached to a fully vented roof deck. A new entry piece was designed to relate to the existing façade creating a separate academic entry independent of the Jesuit community.

One of the ways the number of cast stone pieces was reduced was by using casting techniques such as false joints to simulate many pieces while casting one large piece. This technique was used for the window tracery.

Window tracery drawings that show a reduced number of castings, and an installed piece at right Drawings courtesy of McGinley Kalsow & Associates

Window tracery drawings that show a reduced number of castings, and an installed piece at right.  Drawings courtesy of McGinley Kalsow & Associates.

The cast stone fabrication work was done by BPDL out of Canada. And it is remarkable when you think that thousands of pieces were removed from the building and made their way to Canada so molds could be made, and made it back to a specific place on the building. To avoid the eventual darkening that occurred from the interior aggregate color on the original building, the specifications call for light colored aggregates to be used. It is interesting to see the building with the trim removed and just the pudding stone suspended. (See below) It clearly communicates the refinement the trim adds to the design when installed. One interesting takeaway is that while masonry building are constructed from the ground up, they are restored from the top down. Shawmut Construction, who was the construction manager wanted to avoid working above finished work and so the trim installation, repointing work, and window installation worked their way down from the roof.

Façade with trim removed for recasting Working from the top down and the differences in color of old and new cast stone

Façade with trim removed for recasting Working from the top down and the differences in color of old and new cast stone.

The sculptural elements on St. Mary’s Hall had suffered from severe weathering and had lost much of their detail. The artisans from Skylight Studios, located nearby in Woburn, MA were called upon to create patterns for the highly decorative elements. The stone pieces were numbered and removed to the studio where, using oil-based clay, missing details were created or carved based on the original drawings or photos. BPDL then created Rubber molds to receive the cast stone mixture. This intensive process produced durable replicas of the original ornaments, many of which reach the level of fine art.

Artist using oil-based clay to rebuild historic details

Artist using oil-based clay to rebuild historic details.

Left: Weathered original piece being measured at Skylight Studios Right: Resculpted piece ready for casting mold

Left: Weathered original piece being measured at Skylight Studios    Right: Resculpted piece ready for casting mold

Recreated cast stone piece in place on the building

Recreated cast stone piece in place on the building

Example of the level of detail in the recreated pieces

Example of the level of detail in the recreated pieces

THE ROOFS

The original roof was a terra cotta tile that had served well for almost one hundred years but was at the end of its life. In some cases, wood shingles had been used for patches. The roof was stripped and reinstalled as a fully vented assembly. All of the copper flashings were replaced and a custom blend of Ludowici roof tile, which had been extensively studied for the earlier roof replacement for Gasson Hall, was installed.

Left: Original roof tiles and cast stone deterioriation Right: Roof with wood single repair center right

Left: Original roof tiles and cast stone deterioriation    Right: Roof with wood single repair center right

Left: Coping detail, McGinley Kaslow & Associates Right: Restored roof and flashings

Left: Coping detail, McGinley Kaslow & Associates   Right: Restored roof and flashings

As this series of pictures demonstrates there is a high level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into a renovation/restoration like this one. One learns to appreciate the type of detailing that lasts for one hundred years and learns many lessons about how materials perform and fail over time. The close-up pictures from the lifts show how things may look fine from the ground, but up close one can see the deterioration or tiny crack in the stone that left unrepaired turns into a larger problem down the road. It is a special experience to work on such a project. If in the end it looks like you were never there, that is greatest compliment of all.

The thing that strikes me most in this project is how light and bright the building is. Many including me have always associated darkness with gothic architecture; it is always the architecture of scary houses in horror films. But the photographs of the completed project illustrate this brightness ─ the gleaming cast stone and the light streaming into the corridors through the tracery.

All of which sat very well with Theology Professor Emeritus Harvey Egan, SJ. While he certainly appreciated the fellowship and amenities he found in St. Mary’s, his first impression upon arriving in 1975 was not particularly favorable. “The walls were painted dark green, and there was a general mustiness to the hall; I had to clean off the TV screen in the lounge once a week because of all the smoke.

“But I love what they’ve done with the place, how they’ve made it lighter and brighter, and really brought out the beauty within.”

The Boston College Chronicle, January 16, 2015

I think the best way to illustrate this point is using a series of before and after pictures that show what the exterior restoration and interior cleaning of decades of tobacco smoke from the walls can do.

Before restoration with the cast stone darkened from dirt, exposed dark aggregate in the cast stone, and pollutantsRoof with wood single repair center right

Before restoration with the cast stone darkened from dirt, exposed dark aggregate in the cast stone, and pollutants

New cast stone trim, cleaned and repointed pudding stone, and a proper garage with a garden on top

New cast stone trim, cleaned and repointed pudding stone, and a proper garage with a garden on top

Left: South façade which was relocated in 1930 Right: New entrance added to the academic departments (Photography by Robert Benson)

Left: South façade which was relocated in 1930     Right: New entrance added to the academic departments (Photography by Robert Benson)

The Chapel finishes were cleaned and restored and new lighting was installed. The air conditioning supply system is discreetly concealed in the altars along the sides (Photography by Robert Benson)

The Chapel finishes were cleaned and restored and new lighting was installed. The air conditioning supply system is discreetly concealed in the altars along the sides. (Photography by Robert Benson)

Left: Corridor before Right: Corridor after (Photography by Robert Benson)

Left: Corridor before    Right:  Corridor after (Photography by Robert Benson)

New academic entrance lobby in the former basement space (Photography by Robert Benson)

New academic entrance lobby in the former basement space (Photography by Robert Benson)

This collegiate neo-gothic building is now once again all about the light.  I learned from a recent show on PBS how this is intrinsic to the gothic style. Structural achievements like the flying buttresses of the great cathedrals allowed the builders to thin down the masonry walls and allow in more “heavenly light” to convey the spirituality of the space. What we perceive as quite traditional, they called a “modern” expression, freed from the dark load-bearing masonry buildings with thick walls and small windows of the past.

A renewed St. Mary’s Hall occupies its prominent site in the middle of campus projecting “heavenly light” all around, a symbol of the welcoming Jesuit community who calls it home and the result of a “divine renovation.”  The goal according to Mary Nardone, Associate Vice President for Capital Projects for Boston College, “was to maintain the historical character of St. Mary’s while improving its functionality and efficiency, and also give it a more open, inviting look. We’ve heard many compliments.”

The Boston College Chronicle, January 16, 2015

The aerial view above looks over St. Mary’s and appropriately, for this last post in the series, shows our Waterworks project in the distance beyond the reservoir suggesting the connecting thread in the work of the firm over the last 50 years. Whether we are creating new buildings or restoring old ones, we always collaborate with our clients to achieve the optimum balance of their goals and aspirations. We are proud of St. Mary’s Hall, we are proud of the firm’s body of work, and most of all we are proud to call Boston College our client.