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Project Profile


2006 Award of Merit

St. Andrew's Church

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Project TitleSt. Andrew’s Church

Location138 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China

Size415 square metres

CostUS$ 95,135

Responsible PartyNelson Chen, Ken Nicolson, David Vesey

Contractor: Advance Specialist Treatment Engineering Limited and Bismen Glass Art Engineering Limited

Date of CompletionJune 2005

Project Synopsis

The oldest Protestant church in Kowloon, St Andrew’s Church was constructed in 1906 with funding from a leading Hong Kong financier of the day. Except during the Japanese occupation of World War II, the church has been in continuous use, and remains a place of worship for a diverse cross-section of the Hong Kong Christian community. In 1997 it was designated by the Antiquities and Monuments Office as a Grade II listed building.

To celebrate the centenary of St Andrew’s Church, the church community decided to fund a refurbishment so as to enable the building to be suitable for use by future generations of worshippers.

The Church is part of a complex of buildings including a vicarage, Amah’s residence and groundskeepers’ quarters. It is constructed primarily out of red brick and a lime-based mortar, with some moulded plaster, and features stained glass windows and a bell tower.  

One of main technical problems to be addressed in the conservation project was how to repair damage from previous inappropriate maintenance work to the building’s exterior – use of hard cement pointing, compounded by cement patch repairs, had resulted in spalling of many bricks. Finding an alternative to the destructive cycle of cement pointing and cement repairs became the fundamental goal for the conservation project.  The project also tackled repairs to the stained glass windows and church bells and to the bell tower, which had not been used since the mid-1980s.

Highlights of the Conservation Approach

Extensive preliminary background research formed the basis for deciding upon the restoration methodology, which emphasized the use of traditional materials and reversible techniques. The project team, comprising an architect, heritage consultant and structural engineer, referred to well-established guidelines, such as the China Principles and English Heritage technical manuals.

The tender process for the selection of appropriate contractors provided an opportunity for practical testing of conservation techniques, with each contractor requested to demonstrate an understanding of conservation techniques in a practical setting. For example, the contractors vying for the contract for restoring the brick walls were asked to demonstrate their proposed technique on small sample areas.                                

Protecting and refurbishing the visually dominant red brickwork, which contributed so much of the heritage fabric, was considered of particular importance. The bricks were gently cleaned using only water and nylon bristle brushes, then a water absorption test was carried out to determine the relative porosity of the bricks and pointing. The bricks turned out to be considerably more porous than the cement-based pointing, which allowed the project team to understand that in lieu of exiting via the joints, water was moving out through the bricks, thus accelerating their deterioration. In other words, the joints were not acting as a sacrificial material to protect the bricks. The contractors experimented with various compositions of mortar and different pointing techniques. A softer mortar of cement, lime and sand in a 1:3:9 ratio was adopted, along with protruding, rather than recessed, pointing, which helped to shed surface water better.

Another technique used to particular effect involved the reuse of original bricks.  Deteriorated bricks were carefully removed one by one and inspected. If the reverse face was in good condition, the brick was reused, with its good side facing out, allowing the successful reuse of 400 bricks. Where the brick was in poor condition, it was replaced with bricks of the same colour and composition, sourced from England.

Repair and conservation of the bells for ringing on Sunday mornings was considered a vital part of restoring the identity of the church within the immediate neighbourhood. The church bells had remained silent since a major crack had appeared in the bell tower. It was identified that the cause of the cracking was rusting steel I-beams, which were replaced with galvanized mild steel beams.  The bells were cleaned, with care taken to retain the patina. After unsuccessful trials with nylon rope, the original type of hemp ropes were used, which allowed the bell hammers to rebound freely and consistently.  

Restoration of the stained glass windows took place in two phases. Firstly, panels that were in danger of falling out and causing injury or damage were removed. Upon close examination, it was decided that these panels were beyond repair. Replacement panels that were exact reproductions of the original designs were fabricated. This was followed by the installation of two newly-designed windows to celebrate the Church’s centenary.

Conservation and the Community 

Restoration of the church has meant a continuation of the church in the life of the community. This has meant different things to different people, from the worshippers who use the church on Sundays, to nearby office workers who take shade in the church garden away from the noise of Nathan Road, to elderly tai-chi practitioners who enjoy its peaceful ambiance. 

To ensure the sustainability of the project, the project team created a building maintenance schedule, thus ensuring that the good conservation practices  established by the project will be passed on to future caretakers, and avoiding the repetition of past mistakes. For the caretakers of other historic brick buildings in Hong Kong SAR, St Andrew’s stands as a noteworthy example of proper red brick conservation and maintenance.

Quote from the Project Team

“The project has been very well received by members of the congregation with particular appreciation shown for the repairs to the bells, which now ring out each Sunday to welcome both members of the congregation and passersby on Nathan Road.”