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Culinary Institute of America Restoration & Conversion

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is a world premier culinary college with its primary campus located in Hyde Park, New York.  The school was founded in 1946 in New Haven, Connecticut, and purchased a former St. Andrew-on-Hudson Jesuit novitiate in Hyde Park in 1970, which remains its central campus and has a nickname of “Majesty on the Hudson”. This campus was recently named one of “The 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America” by Condé Nast Traveler.

In the center of the campus is Roth Hall which houses a variety of spaces including: teaching kitchens, student staffed restaurants, offices, classrooms and Farquharson Hall.  The Roth Hall campus building was built in 1907 by architect Schickel & Ditmars in the Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival style.

Farquharson Hall was once the main seminary chapel of the Jesuit novitiate. Originally designed and decorated as a sacred space, the seminary chapel was adapted to serve the CIA’s more secular needs in 1970. These adaptations, as well as subsequent modifications to the hall, were accomplished in a pragmatic fashion, with minimal respect for the detailed decorations and overall design concept of the space. Mechanical and electrical systems, devices and upgrades were introduced into the hall as surface mounted afterthoughts. Over the years, much of the decorative wall and ceiling treatments were buried below this clutter, as well as, layers of paint. The practical needs of the space, had in time, overcome its original aesthetic splendor. And, after thirty years of intensive use by the CIA, all of the finishes and systems were in general need of replacement.

Before restoration of Farquharson Hall.

Farquharson Hall was in need of renovating in 2001, we were honored to be brought in and be a part of the project.  The CIA wished to renovate the space in a manner that would restore the fine art quality of the original ecclesiastical decoration, yet also express the CIA identity through new decoration while integrating into the design the necessary mechanicals and other systems upgrades that needed to take place. The Hall features a soaring vaulted ceiling and original stained-glass windows from the chapel.  Beyond its use for student dining, the combination of stunning features and seating up to 250 people, has made it a popular venue for special events.

Restoration

For this restoration project, John Canning & Co. acted as both the prime and specialty finish contractor, coordinating all work and trades. This included general and decorative painting, decorative finishes, stained glass window restoration, woodwork, stone restoration, plaster consolidation, flooring, new lighting & HVAC, as well as fire alarm and sound systems.

As with most projects, the process started with the study and documentation of the existing conditions. The various specific decorative treatments around the hall were examined and photo-documented in order to gain the fullest understanding of the original designs and execution techniques. Investigations of materials that were performed included plaster, paint and woodwork. The investigations included scientific and interpretive analysis, paint exposures, color matching, pattern documentation as well as a findings report.   Faux mosaic decoration in the ceiling’s spandrels were carefully examined to determine their structural condition and a series of tests were performed to determine the most effective method of stabilizing the areas of flaking paint and plaster.

CIA in progress
Investigation process and exposures.

Armed with this knowledge, appropriate courses of action for each element of the hall were established. This design process was done with close collaboration with the CIA keeping in mind the overall project objectives of restoring much of the original ecclesiastical decoration, while also expressing the CIA identity.

Project design & research process
Project design & research process.

The resulting scope of work combined a variety of treatments ranging from strict preservation and conservation, to new decoration. Every effort was made to create a harmonious space respectful of the hall’s past, present, and future.

Ceiling before conservation & restoration.
Ceiling before conservation & restoration.
After conservation and implementation of new motifs.
After conservation and implementation of new motifs.

Reinstatement of original decoration was performed as well as the design of new art work and decoration. The project restored the fine art quality of the original ecclesiastical decoration, and extended the design to reflect the Culinary Institute’s roots. These new designs incorporate a major donor’s family crest and portraits of the Institute’s co-founders Katherine Angell and Frances Roth, along with trompe l’oeil mosaics featuring images of food preparation.

New designs.

The Romanesque style barrel vaulted plaster ceiling over the majority of the hall is divided into a central band of five rectangular bays running the length of the hall, and the arched spandrels and cross vaults (above each window) which spring from the main pilasters and support the central band on both sides.  The five central panels themselves would have been open to the sky in Roman times so the barrel-vaulted ceiling was conserved and new sky murals were added in tones compatible with the remainder of the decorations. All the exposed surfaces in the hall are ornamental plaster decorated to imitate natural carved stone. Based on an original paint scheme simulating ashlar block, new paint and glaze colors were chosen to recreate the look of stone.

Before, during and after ceiling new sky mural implementation.

The spandrels and cross vaults are covered with faux mosaic decorations executed with pigments in an oil media directly on the plaster. Most of the surfaces are strongly accented with aluminum leaf borders and decorative elements toned and glazed to appear more golden in tone. Typically, there is a different ecclesiastical decorative element centered on each panel.

Progression of leaf borders and decorative elements.

Being mostly intact original surfaces that were executed by artisans possessing a high level of skill and craftsmanship, it was appropriate for these faux mosaic areas to be conserved and preserved. In many instances, the ecclesiastical symbology depicting natural elements such as fruit and grapes, relate quite appropriately to the culinary arts, thus promoting the marriage of former and present uses of the hall.

All of the faux mosaic areas were visually examined and physically sounded to determine where any plaster consolidation was necessary. Plaster consolidation and repairs were made, and the surfaces were cleaned. Areas of paint loss from water damage over the years were in-painted, and the entire surface was sealed.

Before, during and after implementation of some of the new art work and decoration. The new art work of trompe l’oeil mosaics featuring images of food preparation extended the design to reflect the Culinary Institute’s roots.

Faux mosaic and aluminum leaf decorations were also discovered beneath layers of paint in the “T” shaped areas framing the five central rectangular panels. These decorations were re-created using similar techniques to the original, as it was impossible to expose the original decoration without substantial damage.

Metal leaf being applied.
Metal leaf being applied.

Decorative treatment techniques throughout included illusionistic painting (also known as trompe l’oeil), architectural gilding, glazing, stenciling, faux marbling and wood graining.

Stenciling in progress.
Stenciling in progress.
(Left) Detail of historic decoration before conservation cleaning and inpainting. (Center) Conservation cleaning in progress. (Right) After conservation, consolidation, and inpainting. 

Faux mosaics were created using gilded metal leaf and stenciling. Original decoration and motifs were conserved and inpainted at areas of loss.

Before and after restoration of Farquharson Hall.

Farquharson Hall, a spectacular student dining area, is a great example of respectful adaptive reuse of sacred spaces, John Canning & Co. combined preservation research, restoration, and conservation of the original Jesuit chapel sacred design with new decoration elements designed to adapt the space for secular events and student dining.

Farquharson Hall after restoration.
Farquharson Hall after restoration.
CIA After restoration.
Farquharson Hall after restoration.

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