18th century architecture meets 21st century art & technology

St George’s Chapel in Westminster Cathedral

1/2 million tesserae of Venetian glass and gold-faced tiles were fixed to the 120m² dome vault ceiling

St George’s Chapel in Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral is one of the busiest churches in the United Kingdom.  Located in the heart of London, it’s the Catholic mother-church of England & Wales, and to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the barrel vault ceiling and main arches of the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs underwent a complete redesign.

The new design was commissioned to renowned artist Tom Phillips CBE RA and comprised of a breath-taking mosaic depicting the burning names of the forty Catholic martyrs across a dark sky. Made of hand cut Venetian glass and gold-faced tesserae, the number of pieces amounted to over 500,000 over a 120m² area.  For a church that hosts up to 7 masses a day, disruption had to be kept to a minimum; and a unique challenge came in the form of centuries of candle soot that had accumulated on the surface of the ceiling.

The Mosaic Restoration Company was awarded the renovation project, headed up by one of the UK’s leading specialists, Gary Bricknell, who has over 25 years of experience in mosaic design, fabrication and restoration.  Gary worked with Adam Willmott, ARDEX UK Business Development Manager, who himself has had decades of practical experience as a professional tiler, including projects such as the Queen’s Banqueting Hall and Hotel de les Arts for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  Gary explained “The installation was extremely challenging.   Having worked with ARDEX products that have produced years of outstanding results, we turned to Adam for advice on the proposed render, fixing and grouting materials.”

The two worked together to create a system for rendering the concrete ceiling and the brick side walls that had decades of soot contamination.  ARDEX AM 100 Rapid Hardening Tiling Render was chosen for application to a mechanically fixed expanding metal lathe.  ARDEX AM 100 is pre-blended, meaning it can be easily mixed at the workface, which saved time as it requires only the addition of water, negating the need for gauging sand and cement; plus the use of a cement mixer in an active church was simply not an option.   Finally, ARDEX AM 100 allowed the tiles to be fixed after only 2 hours, minimising the overall installation time.

ARDEX X 7 Flexible Tile Adhesive provided an excellent working time and 5 hour pot life, which helped reduce the time pressure of fixing the intricate mosaic design.

ARDEX-FLEX FS Flexible Tile Grout in Brilliant White was used to complete the installation.  ARDEX colour test every batch before delivery, ensuring uniform colour distribution which eliminates streaking during mixing, and the water and dirt repellent properties of the tile grout ensured a finish that would stand the test of time.