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2003 Honourable Mention

Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

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Project Title: Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Date of Completion: 8 December 2002

Location: 16 Caine Road, Hong Kong SAR

CostUS$1,119,100

Client: Reverend Dominic Chan

Heritage Architect: Ms. Anne Kwong, Mr. SL Lam, Mr.WC Mak, Mr. Bernard Hui, Mr. Charles Kung, Mr. TF Lo, Mr. Peter Tsui, Mr. Kevin Li, Ms. Levin Hung

Contractor: Societe Bond (HK) and Company Ltd, Wenden Engineering Service Limited, Tai Yue Engineering Company Ltd., Pacific Construction Ltd.


Project Synopsis

Constructed between 1883 and 1888 and in continuous use for over 115 years, the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a leading centre of religious activities in Hong Kong SAR, a source of inspiration to the community and a symbol of continued religious freedom since the return of sovereignty to China in 1997.

Designed by Crawlwey and Company of London, the Cathedral is an imposing Gothic Revival style building in a cruciform shape with a tower at the intersection of the nave and transepts. The building is constructed predominantly of bricks and stone over a granite platform and is supported by external buttresses. The Cathedral’s original timber roof was replaced with concrete roof in 1952 and the main altar was reconstructed in the early 1980s.  With four main chapels, a collection of statues and relics and intricate stained glass windows, the Cathedral is a significant attraction on the central district heritage walk and a popular site on the guided tour conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects. In view of its historical, architectural and cultural significance, the Cathedral was listed as a Grade I historical building by the Antiquities Advisory Board of HKSAR government in 1981.

The Cathedral’s conservation programme began in 1997 when major roof leakages were reported. The aim of the project was to preserve the Cathedral as a living structure and ensure that the needs of the community continue to be met while enhancing the character and significance of the building. The programme was designed to ensure sound structural condition, to repair historic and artistic aspects and to improve services such as lighting and acoustic systems. Spanning a period of five years, the project was completed in December 2002. The project has revived community interest in liturgical art and architecture and has become a model for the restoration of other religious buildings.

Highlights of Conservation Approach

Thorough research and documentation established the aspects of historical and liturgical significance of the Cathedral before any construction plans were made. Furthermore, defects in the structure were analyzed and an array of options discussed and tested before deciding on repair methods. For example, in order to test out the best solution for roof leakages, a waterproofing liquid membrane was applied over a section of the roof over the transept and its performance was tested for a period of two years before works were carried out.

To enhance architectural integrity, incompatible elements were removed and specialists with traditional skills were appointed to undertake replacements and repairs. For example, the blue mosaic backdrop in the niche for the Statue of the Immaculate Conception that had been added during the 1980s was removed. Similarly, the railing previously installed in the grotto was removed and redesigned so as to be more compatible with the setting.  Concrete paving in the front portico, sacristy and the side entrance was replaced with granite paving similar to the granite of the Cathedral pillars. This paving was laid by a specialist mason, Mr Arnaldo Acconci, in the traditional manner. The Statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was repaired and redecorated by ‘Uncle Jim’ one of the few surviving local artisans with traditional skills in restoring statues.

So as to acknowledge the importance of the Chinese martyrs and saints who devoted their lives to the development of Christianity in China, the Chapel of Our Lord’s Passion was renamed the Chapel of Our Lord’s Passion for the Chinese Martyrs. Chinese artist, Mr Zhang Qi-kai was commissioned to replace the geometric design on the stained glass windows with artistry depicting the Chinese martyrs. In keeping with the architectural integrity of the building the new stained glass windows were produced using traditional stained glass techniques and craftsmanship.

In order to enhance the ambiance of the Cathedral the lighting and acoustics of the building were redesigned. The cathedral was zoned into different sections in order to achieve the desired lighting effects and architectural features such as arches, and liturgical art and statues were highlighted. To improve on the acoustic qualities and minimize reverberation, the line array principle was used. 

Conservation and the Community

All levels of the church community were actively involved in the project in order to ensure that the Cathedral would truly meet the needs of the stakeholders. Consultation sessions were held to enable parishioner feedback and information about the renovation was publicly displayed. A steering group was formed to appeal for donations and fundraising events such as walkathons were arranged. Various age groups of the parish community were invited to evaluate the lighting design and test the illumination and acoustic levels.

The systematic and sensitive approach to conservation planning and the involvement of the community made this project a model for the renovation of other historic churches as well as for the construction of new churches.