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The re-birth of the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral – New York City

Archdiocese of New York

United States of America

Interview to the architect Jeffrey Murphy


Jeffrey Murphy, AIA, LEED®

Jeffrey Murphy is a founding Partner of Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects and has practiced architecture for 28 years. Jeffrey’s special expertise in design for cultural, civic and educational institutions has led to a range of rich and compelling projects, many of which have been recognized for their design excellence and social engagement. As a LEED-accredited professional, Jeffrey believes sustainability is an integral component of architecture. Jeffrey leads the firm in seeking design solutions that embody both conceptual clarity and environmental responsibility. As Partner-in-Charge, Jeffrey has led projects for a diverse group of clients including the UNICEF Innovations Lab, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The American University of Beirut and The City of New York School Construction Authority.


Jeffrey holds a Master in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Virginia. At Harvard he was a recipient of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture Research Fellowship and was awarded the post-graduate Wheelwright Fellowship. Jeffrey’s work reflects the idea that well-considered design positively impacts communities. He has served as Secretary of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and as a board member of Community District 7 in Manhattan.


Jeffrey Murphy is the partner-in-charge of and lead architect for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral restoration project and leads the design team of twenty engineer, consultant and specialist firms.



1) Jeffrey Murphy, after more than 100 years of pollution and decay, the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is going to have a re-birth. Could you tell us when, precisely, the different phases of the great Restoration of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral ended or – if not ended yet – will end ?

The Cathedral’s last full restoration was in the 1940s and a less comprehensive restoration occurred in the 1970’s. We began this project nine years ago by developing a master plan and needs assessment. We assessed the building fabric (exterior stone, roofs, stained glass windows and doors and interior stone, plaster and wood elements), building systems, the organ, and space needs. In this document, we formulated design solutions, which laid the groundwork for the restoration design that followed.  Work on renovating the Rectory began in 2009 and the restoration began three years ago.  The restoration project is almost complete with some small items like the completion of restoring the fleche above the Lady Chapel continuing into the fall.  The geothermal mechanical plant work is ongoing and will be completed by next summer.


2) Which were the first signals of the end of the Restoration (the scaffoldings removed, the exterior stone, the façade, spires, or others) ?

The scaffolding was erected on the Fifth Avenue end of the Cathedral and enveloped the front façade and towers on the exterior and the choir loft on the interior. The interior scaffolding to access the nave ceiling was a two bay platform situated on rails at the triforium level. As the scaffolding on the interior moved two bays after several months of work, the finished condition of the interior was fully revealed for the first time. Similarly, when the scaffolding was removed on the exterior and the bright white marble of the tips of the spires came into view for the first time, the public could see what had been going on under all the scaffolding.


3) As you explained me, the Phase 2 includes the completion of the major part of the interior and stained glass restoration past the first bay and into the transept, and the Phase 3 includes the restoration of the exterior, of the interior and of the stained glass at the ambulatory and sanctuary. Which are the evident results that you would like to explain us about these two phases of the Restoration?

With the completion of Phase 3 and the majority of the scaffolding being removed it is now possible to finally see the finished state of the renovated Cathedral. One of the most interesting things about the architecture is that whole is much greater than the sum of the individual parts. Now with the stained glass fully restored and the new protective glazing installed, more light is entering the Cathedral from up high. Because the stone is cleaned and the ceiling and walls are painted the original lighter color palate, this makes for lighter and brighter surfaces that draw ones eye up to the Cathedral ceiling. In many ways, this is honouring the original design intent of architect, James Renwick, Jr. which was to draw ones eye up to the heavens using light. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was never meant to be viewed as the dark and somber place it had become over the last few decades.


4) Which are the changes in the area of the Sanctuary ?

The clergy including Cardinal Dolan were very introspective and deliberate in suggesting changes to the sanctuary that would better facilitate worship and a sense of welcoming. Some of these changes include creating a cross aisle half way down the nave to better facilitate the holy communion, creating seating so worshipers can occupy the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, making confessionals more user-friendly, removing the front altar in favour of using the original altar under the baldachin, repairing the front bronze doors so they could be easily thrown open to welcome the public into the Cathedral, and adding handrails to the sanctuary.


5) All the ornamental details in the cathedral had the need to be renovated, repaired, even replaced – and I am thinking to the hundreds of sculpted flowers in the interior wall and each one is different. How the workers led on this job? With which kind of technique?

Much of the ornamentation at the upper reaches of the sanctuary were cast in plaster and in some cases were in need of repair.  This ornamentation is remarkable in that no two are the same and you can imagine the expert craftsmen competing to see who could create the most remarkable and unique object.  All plaster that was damaged or loose was first cleaned to fully reveal any damage. Loose or deteriorating plaster was either consolidated, pinned back in place and patched or recast.


6) As you told me, the Phase 4 includes the restoration of the Rectory and of Cardinal’s residence exteriors, the terraces, hardscape and landscaping. What about the memorial garden planned for the area west of the Rectory ?

I cannot speak to when the memorial garden will be completed.


7) I ask you, Jeffrey, if the Tuckahoe Marble – quarried in Westchester County – covers, now, all the exterior and the interior of the Cathedral.

Tuckahoe marble comprises the majority of the stone on the Cathedral. In the 1860’s there was a falling out with the quarry that mined the Tuckahoe marble. Cockeysville marble from Maryland and Lee marble from Massachusetts were used to complete the Cathedral.  There are portions of the towers that comprise each of these marbles.  The Lady Chapel on the east end of the Cathedral was built with Vermont marble.  In the 1940’s, the Tuckahoe marble with ornate crockets at the Fifth Avenue and transept portals were dismantled because the stone was crumbling. These and other stone repairs from that restoration campaign were completed using a greyer Georgia marble. Ray Pepi from our restoration consultant, Building Conservation Associates, was driving around Tuckahoe, New York and discovered large boulders of Tuckahoe marble in someone’s back yard. We were able to purchase these boulders and use them for Dutchmen repairs on this  restoration project.


8) I imagine the 75 stained glass windows cleaned, and all 9,000 pipes on the organ polished and retuned. We can say that the light and the sound of the Cathedral are the first signs of the Restoration?

See my response to Item 4 regarding light.  As far as sound goes, we replaced the audio system with new, slimmer speakers which has improved acoustics for the spoken word. The organ pipes are situated in the choir loft and the ambulatory; one area at a time was de-commissioned so the pipes could be removed, cleaned, repaired and reinstalled. For the first time in three years the entire organ (all 9000 pipes) is back on line and from my untrained ears, the sound is magnificent!

MBB – “Murphy, Burnham & Buttrick”
WC – “Whitney Cox”
John Baer – “John Baer/Building Images”
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