A Brush with History: Restoring the Artistic Landmarks of the C.K. Choi Building

Since its inception, the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs has taken residence in the C.K. Choi Building, an architectural hallmark of UBC’s dedication to Asian studies built in 1994. Designed as a home for the Institute of Asian Research (IAR) and later the SPPGA program, the building is a generous gift by Mr. Cheung-kok Choi, a philanthropist whose mission is largely dedicated towards education and a greater pursuit of knowledge.

Many will recognize the building by the many odes to Asian history that adorn the building and its surroundings – the five sloped roofs that top the building, the large stones etched with Chinese characters, or the two lion sculptures that guard the main entrance.

Recently, the C.K. Choi Building underwent a refurbishing process designed to preserve the original artistry and intention behind these characteristic landmarks. Various careful touch-ups of stone, paint, and metal spanned over two weeks in July 2023.

At the southeast corner of the C.K. Choi Building stand five stones that make up the Stone Garden – each of which is inscribed with a Chinese character of one of the Confucian Analect virtues: Ren (humanity, benevolence), Yi (righteousness), Li (propriety, rites), Zhi (wisdom, knowledge), and Xin (trustworthiness). These stones are originally shipped from Confucius’ birthplace in Taishan, Shandong.

Daniel Schwartz and Sarah Spafford-Ricci, the leads of this restoration project from Fraser / Spafford Ricci Art & Archival Conservation Inc., remarked that the inscribed characters had experienced significant paint loss and alteration to their original colours.

They referenced archival photos to determine the original yellow-gold colour of the characters, which had since turned to a dull copper, and returned the script underneath to a vibrant dark green.

Their meticulous repainting of these inscriptions turns the characters from faded carvings to vibrant symbols of Confucianism once again.

The restoration team also explains the unique torching method used to retouch the large steel bell that sits among the stone garden. First, the bell is cleaned with a non-ionic detergent to remove the first layer of built-up dirt and grime. After corroded areas are treated, Daniel uses a propane torch and outdoor metal wax to begin the second step of bringing the dull steel back to life.

“[This] achieves three goals: It heats the metal to the wax’s melting point and allows for a more uniform wax layer, drives off any remaining moisture that wasn’t lost during air drying, and opens up the microscopic pores in the bronze that allow the wax to penetrate deeper and produces a glosser finish,” he explains.

After torching, a second layer of pigmented wax is applied by Sarah to ensure a cohesive colour finish.

SPPGA would like to thank Fraser / Spafford-Ricci for their detailed work and expertise restoring to ensure the longevity and future preservation of C.K. Choi’s building monuments. We invite you to pay a visit to the Stone Garden to discover the newly-restored monuments of Asian history.