Expanding On Tradition With Slate And Quartzite

June 1, 2005
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The Church of Our Savior in San Gabriel, CA, recently added a new parish hall and a children's chapel to its eight-acre campus. In order to adhere to the traditional look of the original buildings on campus, which had been designed with slate, the same material was incorporated into the 6,000-square-foot parish hall and 1,500-square-foot chapel. And in addition to a slate roof, the expansion employs 6,000 square feet of Summer Buff slate and Antique Gold quartzite flooring throughout the interior and exterior -- supplied by Southland Stone USA, Inc. of North Hollywood, CA.

According to John Dale, Design Architect working in association with Aleks Istanbullu Architects AIA of Santa Monica, CA, the goal of the project was to create a new children's chapel and a larger parish hall to allow adequate space to accommodate the entire congregation at once. “Beyond that, we wanted to build a different kind of chapel,” he said. “The old chapel was a dark, long and narrow space, so we wanted to create a different kind of setting for the children. We wanted to create something special -- to create extroverted spaces in contrast to the existing buildings.”

In addition, Dale said that it was important to the congregation to make the buildings somewhat contemporary while still being respectful to the history of the church. “Another goal was to emulate the form of the older buildings, which is why the use of slate roofs became very important,” he added.

Expanding the use of slate beyond the roofing, Summer Buff slate and Amber Gold quartzite were used for flooring inside the children's chapel as well outside the building. Summer Buff was also used for wall bases, and slate tile bands run through the chapel and to the outdoor patio, tying the inside and outside together. In addition, stone pavers were implemented to bring warmth and enrich the campus, and slate flooring was also carried into the restrooms to keep the materials consistent.

The architect said that the new design palette was not only influenced by the materials on the existing historic buildings, but also by their colors. However, they also sought to expand upon these original concepts. “We stuck with the traditional gray/green slate, but used a richer mix of the colors,” Dale said. “Slate is consistent, durable, easy to install and affordable.”

Granite was selected for thresholds and benches, as the architects wanted a hard stone for these applications. According to Dale, fossil stone was also used as a surface for an alcove in the children's chapel. There is also a stone circle comprised of rough boulders and slate in the prayer/reading circle located outdoors.

One of the most challenging elements to the project, according to the architect, involved the inscriptions in the slate floor of the children's chapel. “We initially had some difficulties incising the slate, but with perseverance and great craftsmanship we succeeded in getting the effect we were looking for,” said Dale.

Installation details

Steiner Brothers Construction Co. of Los Angeles, CA, served as the general contractor for the project. Installation of the stonework -- with a crew of up to 15 setters at a given time -- was completed in a timely fashion of three weeks, according to Bob Steiner. “The layout was very critical because of all the specific patterns [on the chapel floor,]” he said. “We had to be conscious of where joints occurred in the openings of the doors in order to accommodate full tiles. The alignment structure had to be very precise and detailed. The slate bands had to line up with the pilasters and be within the specific grid system.”

He added that the chapel floor was designed with a random look in a somewhat specific pattern. It is comprised of 20- x 20-inch slate tiles with 12- x 12-inch quartzite inserts. “The stone was a challenge to work with in the large chapel area,” said Steiner. “It had a lot of variations to it. It was important to pick and choose tiles carefully, since the slate had quite a range of color, and great care was taken to mix and match them.”

Since the slate was not machined for thickness, the contractors also had to pay attention to the low spots to create smooth transitions and thus avoid causing a tripping hazard. “We used some crack isolation membranes in certain areas of the chapel,” he added. “They were applied over the mortar to prevent cracks from coming up through the stone floors.”

Instead of using aluminum thresholds at each doorway, the contractors selected granite with a honed finish. “The 20-inch-wide granite complements the slate and quartzite,” said Steiner. “It made it look natural rather than placing aluminum under each door, and it came out very nice. The base of the building consists of 8- x 14-inch tiles that were installed vertically. It's a nice transition from plaster to slate, with a 1⁄2-inch aluminum reveal.”

Steiner said the project was deemed a success due to the extreme dedication of the subcontractors from City Tile of Van Nuys, CA. “I was very pleased with the way they completed the job in the little time we had,” he said. “The buildings were committed to events about a year before the building was completed, so we could not miss our deadline. We worked up to the night before the first wedding. It was a difficult schedule, but we manned it properly within the timeframe.”

Although the stone was installed in a matter of weeks, overall construction of the two buildings lasted approximately 18 months, finishing in April 2004. “We have received a lot of compliments from everyone who has seen it,” said Dale. “The congregation is happy that it enhances the environment without taking away what they loved about the place to begin with. Stone is an upgrade, and I think they appreciate that.”

End box

Church of Our Savior
San Gabriel, CA

Design Architect: John R. Dale, AIA Architect
Executive Architect: Aleks Istanbullu Architects AIA, Santa Monica, CA
Stone Supplier: Southland Stone USA, Inc., North Hollywood, CA
General Contractor: Steiner Brothers Construction Co., Los Angeles, CA
Stone Installer: City Tile, Van Nuys, CA

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