Caroe & Partners’ project architect Touseer Ahmad speaks to the AJ about his work on the refurbishment of the Grade II* listed Fitzrovia Chapel
Located at the centre of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Sheppard Robson’s £700 million Fitzroy Place development, Fitzrovia Chapel was once at the centre of the now demolished Middlesex Hospital.
As part of the planning application, developers Exemplar and Aviva agreed to provide £2 million towards the restoration of the Grade II* listed building as well as £300,000 towards running costs of a new foundation to support the chapel as a new community space.
Conservation architects Caroe & Partners was enlisted to lead refurbishment work, which included repairs to brickwork, renovation of the mosaic ceiling and interior, and the installation of modern lighting and heating systems.
Touseer Ahmad, project architect at Caroe & Partners, described the ‘poor state’ of the chapel when the team first surveyed the building, with ‘appalling’ damage caused to the interior by water damage.
‘Many of the mosaics and panels were becoming detached due to the damp,’ said Ahmad. ‘We had to totally renew the roof. Once that was done, we were able to start restoring the interior which was a major challenge in itself.’
Damage to the interior mosaics, which included a loss of ‘up to 70 per cent’ of gold leaf gilding, meant a specialist restoration company had to be appointed to renovate the ceiling.
‘The gilding was missing in several areas and in other areas the mosaic tiles had come loose or were missing,’ said Ahmad. ‘Taylor Pearce was appointed to undertake the work which included replacing missing tiles, fixing areas of tiles which were loose and regilding tesserae where necessary.’
Fitrovia Chapel was designed in 1891 by noted Gothic revivalist John Loughborough Pearson who also worked on Westminster Abbey and Bristol Cathedral, and was completed in 1929 by his son Frank Loughborough Pearson.
Although restoration work to the chapel is now finished, it will only open to the public in Spring 2015 when the surrounding LDS/Sheppard Robson Fitzroy Place development is completed.
Interview: Touseer Ahmad, project architect, Caroe & Partners
What was the condition of Fitzrovia Chapel when you began restoration work?
Our survey of the building found that the clay roof tiles and lead parapet gutters were in a poor state of repair. Of equal concern was the appalling condition of the rainwater disposal system, which meant that water damage was being caused to the interior of the chapel, particularly the mosaic ceiling and marble covered walls.
The brick walls to the Chapel had some cracking but this did not appear to be significant. However, there were areas where bricks had to be replaced and defective pointing renewed. The stained glass windows were also in need of conservation and repair.
What were the major challenges in the project?
One challenge was to ensure that the work was undertaken by a suitable firm of contractors with relevant experience, and that appropriate conservators were appointed for the work to the mosaics and stained glass windows.
It is also worth noting that there was a period of more than two years between the hospital being demolished and the redevelopment work commencing on site. During this period, the chapel stood alone on the site. A challenge for us was to ensure that the condition of the fabric did not deteriorate further and that periodic maintenance was undertaken.
How was the mosaic interior restored?
Water ingress from a leaking downpipe had caused a substantial area of damage which could be seen on the internal alabaster and mosaic. The flow of water had degraded the underlying plaster resulting in loss of adhesion and delamination of the highly ornate mosaic tiles in some areas.
Stabilisation works had been undertaken early on in the project to secure the delicate mosaic ceilings and bordering stonework to give it a greater chance of surviving the impact of a major building project in the immediate vicinity. The entire ceiling was temporarily faced up with Japanese tissue paper and Paraloid to prevent the loss of further tesserae and strengthen the mosaics.
This initial phase was followed by a further phase of repair work when the vibration from the surrounding excavations and building works was considerably reduced.
As part of the conservation and repair work the most fragile areas of the ceilings and walls were stabilised using a fluid consolidant. Cracks and fissures were repaired. Missing tesserae were replaced. In some ceiling bays 60-70 per cent of tesserae were missing their gold surface due to delamination. These were carefully and painstakingly regilded.