Greek revival temple building project is an exemplar of best practice in restoration…
The Portico project in Portaferry involved the restoration and conservation of a Grade A listed Greek Revival temple building, formerly known as Portaferry Presbyterian Church, to produce a stunning arts and heritage venue.
Portico is owned by the charity ‘friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church’, which engaged Lisburn-based TAL Ltd as main contractor on the restoration work.
The project is an exemplar not only of best practice in restoration, but also of how a small charity can take over a dilapidated Grade A listed building, raise the £1.5million needed for its restoration and produce a stunning arts and heritage venue for the whole community to enjoy. All this, whilst, at the same time, preserving the architectural integrity and historical importance of the building.
The restoration included a complete structural overhaul, as well as an extension, in the Greek Revival style, which added a meeting room and much needed modern facilities.
Portaferry Presbyterian Church, built in 1839 and designed by John Miller, is described by Professor James Curl, in the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture as “a building in the first rank of neoclassical designs”.
CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION
Architect Bill Maxwell’s brief was one of conservation then restoration and, only where necessary, replacement and alteration. He produced a conservation report, and supplementary reports came from Crick Jones (paint scrapes); Joe McKee (organ); Ian Chilvers, Atelier Works (signage/displays); Colin Hattrick (stained glass); Semple McKillop (M&E); Neil Porteous (landscaping); Access NI (access); and BCD Partnership (structural engineering). All work received Listed Building’s Approval and, in 2014, TAL Ltd was appointed contractor for the project.
“Conservation was foremost on this project, but the building still had to meet 21st
Century standards, so that in itself threw up many challenges,” said TAL’s Contracts Manager, Peter Carson.
The works have included reroofing, replacing damaged roof timbers, extensive repairs to the coffered ceiling, new heating, lighting, and A/V systems; a new organ case and restoration of the century-old organ; installation of an internal lift; disabled access facilities; the creation of an extension (to accommodate a meeting room, a small kitchen, WCs and ancillary services) and reordering the west end approach to create a dedicated entrance to the heritage displays which will be housed in the gallery of the building.
Otherwise, the restoration included extensive roof works; complete replastering with lime render; tanking of underground walls; and stripping Microcrete (a 1970s mixture of cement, rubber and pigment used to ‘prevent’ damp) from the sandstone detailing.
The building has been completely redecorated, floodlit, and the grounds landscaped to the plans of Neil Porteous (National Trust). Almost all of the original fabric remains.
TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALS
Historical techniques have been used, wherever possible. Exterior cement render was stripped and replaced with lime plaster; salvaged Bangor Blue slates were reused on the roof and old Scrabo stone was used for new steps and to replace old concrete steps.
Cast-iron railings were removed, reconditioned and reused (being supplemented with exact copies where needed) and the upper floor Art Deco windows, which were replaced with wooden sash windows, were reworked into new windows for the extension.
Whilst the building still functions as a church, its primary use is for the whole community as an arts and heritage centre.
“One major achievement of the project was the sensitive removal of the 1970s Microcrete exterior paint,” said Peter. “It was originally applied in a bid to prevent damp penetration. However, it trapped in damp as it was impermeable both ways. Where exposed to strong sunlight, the rubber component perished, and the membrane was falling off in patches. Where it remained, it trapped pockets of water which were damaging the stonework. Microcrete is impervious to chemical paint strippers. It was finally removed by three stonemasons with hand-held disc grinders and took six months, but with remarkable results.
Because the building had fallen into such a state of bad repair, TAL Ltd faced a number of other different challenges on the project. However, the difficulties they faced also highlighted the team’s expertise and experience in this type of project, and for each problem, a solution was found.
“Another difficulty we had was that the ground floor back corridor was externally underground,’ said Peter. ‘No tanking existed, and removal of the internal plaster revealed a metre thick water-saturated wall. The wall was excavated down to six metres, tanked, membraned and backfilled with drainage. Internally the walls and ceiling were also membraned and drainage channels inserted. Using these techniques, we managed to transform what had been a damp, smelly corridor into a dry, attractive space.”
The restoration has generated considerable interest. In the long term, the building is structurally secure and, with its various and diverse income streams, should also be financially sound.