Of all the thousands of building projects happening across the GTHA, it is not very often that a new place of worship is listed among them. Typically overshadowed by the sheer scale of residential and commercial construction across the region, places of worship are nonetheless newsworthy, their rarity often inspiring their architecture to be unique and striking. Since the early 20th century, modern church design in particular has broken out of the traditional styles of history, inspiring whimsical and unconventional forms that demand innovative design and construction techniques, resulting in each one being vastly different from the next, but no less impressive. In Hamilton, the new St Catherine of Siena Church is currently rising out of the ground, and Feature Walters is helping to bring its unique form to life.

The St Catherine of Siena parish is the newest Roman Catholic parish in the Diocese of Hamilton, and was formed in 2017 with the amalgamation of the Our Lady of Lourdes and the Corpus Christi parishes. They immediately assembled a building committee, and selected a site at the intersection of Rymal Road East and Upper Sherman Road in the south of the city. Design of the church was entrusted to ATA Architects Inc. with Mantecon Partners alongside them. Construction on the church is now underway and will be complete in Summer 2023.

A prominent feature of the new church is three large nave windows around the altar and above the main entrance facing east, south, and west. Each window contains steel tracery that evokes the stone tracery of historical churches, but with a modern design unique to this church. From the beginning, ATA Architects looked to Feature Walters to fabricate the tracery, as well as being tasked with solving the complex problem of how exactly to build these soaring windows.

Rendering of the church interior, image courtesy of ATA Architects.

Feature Walters, a Walters Group company, is a steel fabrication company based out of Hamilton which specializes in architectural metals and Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS). They offer a full range of services from design through to fabrication and installation, and their portfolio comprises a diverse range of projects with a wide variety of innovative steel features. They have been producing unique architectural steel and metal products for over 50 years, and they specialize in custom-made installations that are specific to each project.

For the St Catherine of Siena Church, Feature Walters was given the design intent for the windows from the architect, and got to work trying to figure out how to build the massive traceries, which measure an impressive 11.4 metres by 13.8 metres in size. The tracery is not only decorative, but it also supports the glazing for the windows, so it has the added complication of structural stability and increased load capacity. Feature Walters held regular huddles with their drafting, engineering, fabrication, and field services teams to detail the process of fabricating the tracery from start to finish, ensuring that it was not only structurally sound, easily transportable, and constructible, but that it also achieved the desired look and finish.

View of the tracery installed on site, image courtesy of Feature Walters.

The tracery is composed of rolled HSS members that were cut into pieces and molded into shape in Feature Walters’ shop. The members were assembled and welded together in three separate pieces, which were then transported to the site. On site, the three pieces were then field-welded together to form the tracery for one window as a single piece, which was then hoisted up with a crane and secured in place. This was done for all three windows, with each having identical tracery patterns. The tracery was finished to AESS-2 with shop-applied primer, and a paint finish was later applied after their installation.

View of the church under construction with tracery installed, image courtesy of @bylcj.

The connections between the various steel members became critical in the design of the tracery. Not only did they have to be structurally sound, but the weld could not be too visible nor too obstructive in order to achieve the desired look. Almost every steel member was unique, meaning almost every connection was unique, which created some particularly tricky joints, such as the ‘Y’ intersections between three steel pieces. Feature Walters worked closely with the ATA Architects and Mantecon Partners to perfect their welding technique through a series of tests and mock-ups; the successful results can be seen on the construction site today.

View of the tracery being fabricated in the Feature Walters shop, image courtesy of Feature Walters.

The St Catherine of Siena Church is also a project where both Feature Walters and their parent company, the Walters Group, collaborated together. While Feature Walters designed the tracery, Walters Group fabricated the steel structure of the remainder of the building, including the roof trusses that span across the large open floor plan of the church. As well, Feature Walters fabricated the cross that now sits atop the church roof, constructing it with an internal system of supporting HSS steel members and an aluminum-bronze sheet metal finish.

View of the cross fabricated by Feature Walters now installed on the roof, image courtesy of Feature Walters.

The St Catherine of Siena Church is inching closer and closer to completion, and all of the components mentioned above are already installed and can be seen on site. More information on Feature Walters can be found on their website here, and you can tell us what you think of the church and its construction by leaving a comment in the space provided below.

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