Malate Catholic Church Restoration
When a fragment of adobe stone fell from the exterior moulding on the north (Remedios Street) side of the church, it prompted the parish to take a closer look on the condition of the 400-year old church. Further ocular inspection of the walls revealed that the building fabric underneath the concrete plaster may be in its advanced state of deterioration and a more detailed examination and intervention must be carried out to preserve the precious heritage structure.
Early in 2011, 5 graduates of Escuela Taller Intramuros, a school-workshop training underprivileged youth skills in heritage conservation, started working on the exterior north wall of the church. The initial preventive maintenance works done to the adobe wall revealed more conditions that needed attention and intervention. Since similar manifestations of damage were observed all throughout the exterior walls, conservation architects recommended that same action be applied to the walls. Later that year, students of Escuela Taller were deployed to the project as part of their on-the-job training. One of the first tasks of the strengthened workforce was to remove the concrete plaster that trap water within the walls which damage the sensitive adobe stones. This was done by carefully chipping the concrete plaster from the adobe wall by chisels crafted by the students themselves, customized according to the work needed. As expected, the underlying building fabric exposed serious conditions similar to what were initially discovered. These conditions were meticulously documented. Based on the gathered information from the documentation, it was recommended that the heavily damaged stones, that usually were found on the mouldings be replaced by the same stone, fashioned traditionally, and walls be plastered with a compatible lime–based mortar to protect it from weathering and act as a sacrificial coat for the sensitive adobe and at the same time improve the breathability of the wall and prevent accumulation of moisture that contribute to the fabric’s deterioration. To respect the recent memory of the community around the Malate Church and all other stakeholders familiar with the church, lines simulating stone courses were reinstated.
The same respect to the recollection of stakeholders of the church’s look was considered for the main façade. The parish commissioned a survey to evaluate the community’s impression of how a restored Malate Church would look. The result suggested that stakeholders, may they be Malate residents or parishioners from other places, want the structure to be conserved to be able to stand for many more years but at the same time maintain its romantic aged look. That meant that the approach employed to the rest of the walls is not applicable to the main façade that features rich details from its architectural era. Nevertheless, the main goal remains the same—to protect the building fabric and its ornamentation from further deterioration. After consultation with the community and experts, a conservative intervention was adopted. After liberation from previous concrete interventions, most of the weathered details of main façade were cleaned and left in its current condition to maintain the old look. Avoiding actions based on conjecture, the sacred hearts were reinstated based on the oldest photo available that showed the icons in a relatively good condition. The whole of the main façade were protected by a thin layer of lime with a colour simulating the natural shade of adobe to reflect the imperfections time has contributed to the iconic façade.
As the exterior walls slowly gain its renewed look, doors and windows needed their own rehabilitation themselves. Missing stained glass pieces of the church’s windows were reinstated by the same company that first installed them many years ago while Escuela Taller’s metalworks workshop helped in repairing and repainting of the window frames and iron grilles. The huge and heavy wooden doors which are made of Philippine hard wood species, such as narra, yakal, ipil and mangkono, had to be detached and disassembled to allow detailed investigation and needed repair works. Added steel plate ornaments replicating straps and hinges of old doors were removed due to heavy corrosion that contribute further to the deterioration of the more important wooden parts. Rotten parts were carved out then patched up or replaced by the same wood species. Replacement and new components were fumigated to prevent termite attack. Fake wood grains were meticulously painted over the new components to blend with old ones before paraffin wax was pressed onto the wood to protect the doors from moisture. The same methods are being applied to the rest of the doors which is targeted to be completed early next year. The main door is temporarily substituted by a hollow-core one painted using the “faux finish” and “trompe l’oeil” techniques to simulate wood grains and other features of the actual door to maintain the façade’s look that the community remembers and other stakeholders to appreciate, especially during photo opportunities for weddings and other church activities.
It is often said that a conservation project is like opening a can of worms—repairing one small part would lead to discovering other problems, bringing more challenge to the project. For Malate Church, the original intention to restore the exterior walls had developed to include works in the interior, on the roof, and on the church grounds.
The choir loft that was supported by a heavy steel beam inserted into the adobe wall near the window opening had to be removed due structural threats brought about by corrosion and its sheer weight. The choir loft which will be of wood and independent of the wall will be reinstated once the design is completed. While the choir loft area is temporarily empty, it was decided to apply the same lime-based mortar plastered on the exterior to further improve the breathability of the walls, especially around the main façade. The porous and low thermal conductive property of the lime-based plaster is also expected to improve temperature inside the church. Eventually, the entire interior walls will be re-plastered as the exterior walls. To further enhance thermal comfort, more ceiling and roof vents were added to increase airflow and reduce accumulated heat and humidity inside the church. This environment-friendly approach (passive cooling) is complemented by solar panels installed on the south (parking) side of the roof to provide power for interior lights of the church and the Remedios Jubilee Mission Center. Passively cooling the church and converting the sun’s power to electricity help reduce the energy consumption of the parish.
The restoration of church does not stop on the structure itself. Development of the whole complex is also being addressed to enhance the architectural and spiritual experience in Malate Church. Initial works have been done to improve the side walk and drainage system of the site that led to the unearthing of bones probably from the casualties of the Second World War and a cistern made of bricks beside the south wall where the pieta is now located. Archeologists helped in recovering the bones and in coordinating with the National Museum for tagging. The cistern that was crudely filled with earth and rubble when it was discovered was documented and systematically backfilled for stability. A design for the entire church ground is being developed that will feature improved parking layout, walkways, a garden, and a fence that will match the architecture of the church.
The restoration of the Malate Church was a big challenge for Our Lady of Remedies Parish and the thousands who marched towards that goal. It was a challenging and fulfilling 5-year endeavor that saw the community contribute to the conservation the Philippines’ precious built heritage and live up to its parish’s name—to remedy the ailing condition of the centuries-old church and extend its life for generations to experience and appreciate.
5-Year Program to Restore Malate Church
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