The cathedral, which when completed will seat a congregation of 3,000, is sited in a commanding position at the junction of three roads about a mile from the centre of Owerri in the Port Harcourt area of Nigeria, and is planned in the form of a Greek cross measuring 230 ft by 221 ft with an 88-ft diameter dome at the crossing. Inside the building the arms of the cross span 48 ft 6 in. The dome, 93 ft 6 in high, terminates with an octagonal lantern, the ceiling of which is 101 ft above floor level.
Radiating symmetrically from the centre are four smaller buildings forming a sub-cross transforming the main Greek cross into an eight point star: two of the buildings house the 28-ft by 22-ft 6-in main side chapels and the other two the public gallery and choir gallery. Above each of these buildings are twin octagonal belfry towers which form a predominant feature of the external massing, explaining visually the supporting and buttressing system of the dome.
All four main roofs and that of the dome are also to be covered with copper-surfaced felt on timber decking secured to steel trusses through timber purlins. Ceilings will, in general, be finished in hardboard sheeting and exposed parts of the steel trusses finished in plaster.
The dome, carried on an 11-ft high steel-framed drum, is constructed with 24 lattice ribs giving a purlin length of 11 ft and tied together at intervals of about 17 ft by light lattice girders. Domes have a tendency to spin, so to control this movement bracing is provided between two adjacent ribs in four sectors spaced 90 degrees apart. The 24 vertical legs of the drum portion are braced together in all bays and bolted to a ring of steel beams.
At at the top the ribs of the dome connect to a 10-ft diameter ring which is to carry the lantern surmounted by a cross. Outside this ring is another ring, 16 ft diameter, and both are braced together to control deformation of the 10-ft diameter opening. A similar circuit bracing system is provided at the level of the top of the lunettes.
Certain considerations had to be bourne in mind when designing the dome steelwork: (1) it was known that the last stage of the journey from Port Harcourt to site was by road over very difficult terrain, (2) erection tackle was limited to one steel mast and (3) scaffolding was scarce.
Bearing these points in mind it was decided that erection should be done by progressively cantilevering the ribs inwards, commencing at bottom level of the dome. The rib sections were made in 17-ft lengths with closed ends to prevent damage in transit and to facilitate erection; as the weight of the sections did not exceed 4cwt they could be manhandled without much difficulty. The dome was trial erected before despatch and this provided an opportunity to check the proposed method of erection.
Architects – Hooper and Mayne.
Reprinted from Building with Steel Volume 4 No. 6, May 1967