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Building Conservation Associates

Washington National Cathedral

Location: Washington, D.C.
Year Built:: 1907-1990
Original Architect: George Frederick Bodley, Philip Hubert Frohman

The Washington National Cathedral was constructed over a period of 83 years, from 1907 to 1990. Its massive stone construction, rose windows, towers and buttresses recall the great cathedrals of Europe. The interior is equally as ornate, with stone carvings, elaborate carved woodwork, and paintings. Following the 2011 Virginia-based earthquake, the Cathedral embarked on an extensive inspection and repair program to address conditions caused by the earthquake.  

BCA worked with the Cathedral’s Preservation and Facilities Department to evaluate the condition of Guastavino Akoustolith ceiling tile and limestone ribs. BCA surveyed these masonry components of the ceiling and performed a series of tests to evaluate the best way to clean and repair them. Analysis of the Akoustolith and its mortar was performed to guide replacement materials. Following the survey and testing, BCA developed bid documents for the restoration of the Akoustolith and performed construction phase services to ensure quality control throughout the restoration process.  

As the Cathedral was beginning an organ restoration project, the cathedral’s musicians called attention to acoustical problems with the existing ceiling asked to improve the acoustical conditions within the space in conjunction with the organ restoration. BCA developed a testing program in collaboration with an acoustician to evaluate the efficacy of coating the Akoustolith ceiling tile, a treatment that could be executed while the building was fully scaffolded for the inspection and repair campaign. The goal of the testing program was to identify an acoustically effective treatment while minimizing visibility of the coating, and to evaluate the acoustics of the space before and after treatment. BCA installed small and large-scale mock-ups in place to evaluate the options. Through the testing, BCA was able to recommend a practical, effective method for coating the Akoustolith that resulted in better acoustics but produced no visible change to the ceiling.