Home' Scoop Homes and Art : Insite 28 Autumn 2011 Contents 116 INSITE AUTUMN 2011
It took vision and talent to
complete a cathedral left
unfinished for decades
ore than a year after the
award-winning St Mary’s
Cathedral redevelopment was
completed, architect Peter
Quinn says that he “is still not over the
experience”. It was a huge commitment for a
sole practitioner, and one that dominated his
life and business for more than six years.
Peter also admits that he took on the
project with some trepidation. Not only did
he not have any experience with heritage
work – or access to the resources a big
firm could have “thrown at the project”
he knew that working on such a major
iconic building would expose him to public
criticism, which he says, “took me way out
of my comfort zone”.
However, the architect’s long career has
been built on designing Catholic churches,
schools and prayer spaces, so there is almost
a sense of divine destiny in his involvement
with this prestigious project.
The brief required a plan that would
complete the cathedral, which had been
left unfi nished for more than 70 years,
and reconcile what were, essentially, two
churches from two different eras that were
stylistically opposed. It also called for an
enlarged assembly space, which would
allow worshippers greater participation in
the celebration of the liturgy; the provision
of appropriate acoustics and sightlines; and
new infrastructure to house parish facilities,
such as meeting rooms and offices.
“My concept was to go underground and
bury the infrastructure,” explains Peter.
“I wanted St Mary’s to remain as it always
had been: a stand-alone cathedral in a grass
square. The linking of the two buildings
was very difficult. They were completely out
of whack with each other in terms of their
footprint, their proportions and their styles.
“But, once I had decided to keep the
original western end, it was a matter of
creating a link so that the three eras could
be seen as one. I didn’t want the link to be ‘a
look at me’ statement, rather one that would
tie the different structures together.”
The infill link features floor-to-ceiling
curved glass walls, which open the
cathedral to natural light and visually
connect it to the city and the adjacent
hospital. Supporting this contemporary
addition are enormous coloured precast
concrete colonnades. The other key concept
was to move the sanctuary and altar into the
middle and wrap seating around it on three
sides to provide a more intimate connection
between the celebrant and congregation.
As with any heritage project, many
challenges were dealt with as work
progressed, leading to the estimate of $15
million blowing out to almost $33 million.
Peter says there were many reasons
for the time the project took and the final
cost. He cites changes to the original brief,
which doubled the size of the infrastruct ure
underground, and the fact that the scope
of the restoration work quadrupled. It also
didn’t help that the building took place
during the height of the last mining boom.
It’s also inevitable that a project of this
type polarises opinions. Some critics were
unhappy the cathedral was being touched
at all; others, at the cost, or the modern
elements introduced. Although Peter says he
never considered a design that would simply
Architect Peter Quinn in the
refurbished 1865 entryway.
The finished St Mary’s Cathedral is a
“harmonious juxtaposition of three buildings”.
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