Raising the roof

The McGill skyline has some added bling thanks to the new copper cupola that was installed atop the Macdonald Stewart Library Building Monday afternoon.
The new cupola of the Macdonald Stewart Library Building is 3.5 meters high and has a diameter of approximately 4 meters. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

By Neale McDevitt

The McGill skyline has some added bling thanks to the new copper cupola that was installed atop the Macdonald Stewart Library Building Monday afternoon.

The 3.5-meter tall cupola was hoisted by crane to its perch capping the tower of the Macdonald Stewart in a matter of minutes. Workers on scaffolding secured the cupola as dozens of curious people watched below.

The cupola is part of two simultaneous projects to replace the slate and copper roofs of the Macdonald Engineering and the Macdonald Stewart buildings. This reconstruction work will address the ongoing issues of infiltration and the risk of falling slate, as well as the deterioration of the stone chimneys. The new roofs will be ventilated to discourage the formation of icicles.

“This is a deferred maintenance project,” said Amanda Ceccarelli, Project Manager, Facilities Operations & Development. “The work started in June 2012 and is slated to finish by the end of the summer.”

A gift of Sir William Macdonald, the building was constructed in 1893 by Sir Andrew Taylor, and was originally the Macdonald Physics Building. Taylor took into account the function of the building and, knowing the nature of physics experiments, he built the entire edifice using only wood, masonry, and copper, bronze and brass for the nails and fixtures. No iron or steel was used throughout, even in the radiators, to keep magnetic interference at a minimum. In 1903, Ernest Rutherford published and won the Nobel Prize for discoveries derived from experiments conducted in the Macdonald Physics Building.

In 1982, the building was transformed into the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building of Physical Sciences and Engineering.

Because Macdonald Stewart is one of the most historically significant heritage buildings in the country, renovation projects are subject to the oversight of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the City of Montreal’s Arrondissement historique et naturel de Mont Royal in order to maintain the integrity of the original design. “We have a responsibility to society to do it right and the regulatory framework in which McGill operates makes it an obligation.” said Bob Stanley, Director Project Management, Facilities Operations and Development. “This kind of detailing is absolutely essential.

Not only is the new copper aesthetically pleasing, it, along with the slate, is more durable and requires less maintenance than modern building materials “When the work is finally completed, the roofs should last another 100 years,” said Ceccarelli.

Watch a video of the installation here:


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Louis Richer
11 years ago

There is something else that is particular about this building. If you pay close attention (once the scaffolds and green mesh will be removed), you’ll find many names of famous scientists engraved in the stonework around the windows and in other places around the building. Go find them!