‘A Stitch in Time – Guidance Notes in Maintaining your Place of Worship’


by Ian Hamilton, Director, Arcuate Architecture

In line with our practice’s core purpose of helping church congregations to sustain and develop their places of worship, Arcuate Architecture has produced a series of Guidance Notes to assist those responsible for maintaining the fabric of their historic churches in South Australia.

It is vital to have a regular maintenance regime when looking after historic churches and it is essential to be aware of tell-tail signs that could point to serious underlying problems that may need to be attended to urgently if costs for repairs are not to escalate.

The big issue when maintaining and repairing building fabric is to control the ingress of water, particularly when dealing with constructions that use natural materials. It is best to think of traditional buildings as being ‘soluble’- water literally dissolves natural materials. Timber rots, stone erodes, metal structure and fittings rust, pointing washes out of walls, plaster crumbles and the ground around footings washes away.

Within our State there are particular environmental and geographic anomalies that need to be taken into consideration. The particularly high salt content of much of our soils combined with periods of heavy rainfall and intense heat regularly leads to salt damp. Also, our soils often react to the heavy rainfall by absorbing moisture and expanding, whilst long dry spells cause the ground to dry out and contract. Footings beneath walls of traditional buildings are often small, and sometimes non-existent, and expansion and contraction of the adjacent ground usually results in cracks in external walls that, if not repaired promptly, can lead to water ingress.

While churches built in the early years of the settlement of South Australia were generally constructed to high standards by skilled tradesmen, the advent in the 20th century of ‘modern’ design and construction techniques and man-made materials resulted in the loss of traditional building skills and knowledge. Many of the repairs carried out to historic churches throughout the last century, especially following WWII, were ill-advised and have left us with a legacy of degraded fabric and expensive remedial works.

It is only in recent years that heritage architects and some specialist tradespeople in South Australia have started to re-acquire the traditional skills and knowledge needed to carry out suitable repairs to the State’s invaluable legacy of historic church buildings.

Throughout 2018 Arcuate will be sending out our guidance notes as blogs on our website. These notes will be quick, succinct summaries of the most important issues to look out for when reviewing the fabric of your place of worship.

Should you require more detailed information please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone or email.

We wish you a Very Happy 2018 and hope to hear from you sometime soon.

Ian Hamilton