Building a Cathedral
May 5, 2019 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Ground broke on December 27, 1892, and almost immediately it became clear just how many unknowns the project would hold. Workers discovered that - unlike at St. Luke's across the street - there was nothing solid to build on. Excavation revealed loose rock, compressible earth, and underground springs. Workers had to dig 72 feet down before they hit bedrock, by which point said springs had turned the hole into a lake. It would take ten years before they drained the hole and built back up the foundation.

By Nicolas Kemper for The Prepared, 'a newsletter, podcast, and network for people working on real problems in the physical world'.
posted by smcg (11 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Even Notre Dame was ransacked during the French Revolution, seen – with reason – as a symbol of the monarchy.

This makes it sound like there was a brief scuffle in the sacristy and some silverware was looted.
Notre-Dame's travails during the revolution were more significant than that, and the new regime's policy towards the church went far beyond seeing them as a symbol of the monarchy.
posted by zamboni at 6:36 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]

I really enjoyed that article, thank you!
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 7:50 AM on May 5

Yeah same, that was a really great read, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning. Thanks for posting!
posted by saladin at 7:51 AM on May 5

Oooh, did not know about The Prepared, thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:08 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

... for cathedrals everywhere, delays are par for the course.
Almost as if Someone didn't want them built...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:18 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

Excavation revealed loose rock, compressible earth, and underground springs. Workers had to dig 72 feet down before they hit bedrock, by which point said springs had turned the hole into a lake

other popes said I was daft to build a cathedral in a swamp
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 AM on May 5 [23 favorites]

Interesting article but at the end when I realized it was written by an architect I realized why it was so full of jargon. Did anyone understand what he was talking about with the condos? How did they build condos into the cathedral?

Also this? Can we stop doing it cuz it doesn't seem to work.
Then, in 1991, the economy crashed. A 1989 decision to privatize and aggressively grow the stone yard left it vulnerable to the souring economy, leading to its bankruptcy in 1994. All 70 stonemasons were laid off.
posted by bleep at 10:26 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

The condos were built on property leased from the cathedral: “Despite bitter critiques from preservationists, he would eventually lease and sell two parts of the cathedral’s close to developers to build condominium and rental towers. The more recent tower, which flanks the north transept, stands where the stoneyard once was.” They’re next to it.
posted by migurski at 10:47 AM on May 5

Brilliant essay overall; I subscribed the The Prepared in hopes they feature more like this.

Two parts stuck out to me as someone interested in government technology: the relationship of mega projects to time (“But once a project exceeds its due date, its estimated time to completion expands. While humans tend towards death, late projects become immortal.”) and the significance of politics at all levels of a project:
Guy Nordenson, a New York structural engineer and teacher who has worked on a number of megaprojects (including, briefly, St. John the Divine), argues that a megaproject succeeds because it resonates “in a powerful, fundamental way.” Contemporary megaprojects are fragile because they are capitalistic, without a solid foundation of social justice or labor relations: “Does anyone ask an iron worker his opinion about the design of something like Hudson Yards? Hudson Yards is executed directly from the dictates of one person who runs the development company that has overseen it, and to whom the city and the state had abdicated all social responsibility.” The Apollo Program, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chunnel – these were successful, posits Nordenson, “because the idea was compelling.” Nordenson sees the essence of a successful project as bound up with an idea John Ruskin described when he talked about gothic architecture: Every participant – from the bishop to the artisan carving gargoyles – has a shared ownership of the project’s outcome. That is, a project succeeds when there is an alignment between the people who design buildings and the people who build and use them – between Lefebvre's conceived and lived space.
posted by migurski at 10:52 AM on May 5 [7 favorites]

They are capitalistic, without a solid foundation in social justice or labor relations.

Here's an article about the Soviet White Sea-Baltic Canal, a megaproject built by slave labor within some of our lifetimes.

Does anyone ask an iron worker his opinion about the design of something like the Hudson Yards?

Yes, the muscular worker with his hammer, rolled up sleeves and his (the iron worker is only a man?) good, solid down-to-earth opinions.

In any case, I lived around the corner from St. John the Divine for years, and spent many a pleasant hour there. This article was most appreciated.
posted by Modest House at 4:13 PM on May 5

I used to live 2 blocks away from this magnificent edifice. I've wandered its vaults in the middle of the night, in Thursday Vigil during Easter Week. My foster dad was Episcopalian.
posted by Goofyy at 5:40 PM on May 8

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