Restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum Begins

With 50th Birthday Celebration on the Horizon, Restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum Begins

Using Methods and Materials Unavailable to Wright, Guggenheim Will Be Restored to "Better-than-Ever" Condition

(New York City, September 11, 2007) William Mack, Chairman of the Board, and Thomas Krens, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, today announced the findings of a comprehensive two-year condition assessment of the 1959 Frank Lloyd Wright building, one of New York City’s most important landmarks.

“Following our exhaustive investigation of the building’s condition, I am enormously pleased to announce that the Guggenheim’s exterior and infrastructure will be restored, requiring only limited structural interventions,” said William Mack. “The improvements will strengthen our treasured building while conserving Frank Lloyd Wright’s original intentions.”

Thomas Krens added, “Our team of leading experts in the field of landmark restoration and preservation formulated a methodology – using the latest techniques and materials unavailable to Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s – to undertake the restoration and to ensure the long-term health of this 50-year-old icon of modern architecture.”

During the last two years, a team of restoration architects, structural engineers, and architectural conservators—led by Wank Adams Slavin Associates LLP (WASA); Robert Silman Associates, PC (RSA); and Integrated Conservation Resources (ICR)—undertook a comprehensive condition assessment which included the removal of 11 coats of paint from the original surface, revealing hundreds of cracks caused over the years, primarily from seasonal temperature fluctuations; detailed monitoring of the movement of selected cracks; laser surveys of the exterior and interior surfaces; core drilling to gather samples of the original concrete and other construction materials; and testing of potential repair materials. Their analysis concluded that Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece is in good structural condition, requiring exterior work to infill cracks, expose and treat corroding steel, to repair and protect all concrete work, and some structural interventions at the 6th floor Rotunda walls.

According to Robert Silman, President, RSA, “Just as Wright pushed the boundaries with the design of the museum, the restoration has pushed the boundaries of its investigation and repair. Before this comprehensive assessment of the building’s condition, several previous studies had been completed, but there were always unknowns, assumptions, and simplifications. Buildings rarely have the advantage of an owner willing to invest in such a thorough and comprehensive investigation, which resulted in a more sensitive and complete restoration.”

Pamela Jerome, AIA, Partner, WASA, said, “Frank Lloyd Wright, who was always at the cutting edge of technology and frequently ahead of his time, is also notorious for the failures of his buildings, often structural in nature. Although some remedial reinforcing is necessary, our investigation revealed that Wright’s radical design for the Guggenheim was irreproachable.”

Glenn Boornazian, President, ICR, added, “Just as Frank Lloyd Wright was on the cutting edge of using materials, he forced us to think of solutions in unusual ways.” Mr. Boornazian elaborated, “Throughout his career, Wright was always experimenting with materials and methods. At the Guggenheim he was looking for a material that would allow him to make the surface of the building appear monolithic [without breaks], an appearance which was an essential aspect of his design. He was probably the first to use spayed concrete otherwise known as gunite on a large architectural scale which allowed him to create the smooth, unbroken curves. The monolithic appearance was so important that a conscious decision was made to leave out expansion joints which would have created visual vertical breaks.”

The building is at once art, architecture and structure. All decisions had to balance these elements to preserve the appearance and performance of the iconic building – judged by many to be one of the architectural “wonders of the world.” Structurally this presented several challenges that required creative solutions including the use of carbon fiber fabric reinforcing on the interior face of the 6th Ramp walls. A matrix of carbon fiber recreates the intended structural capacity of the wall required to resist temperature and wind loads. Wright was a proponent of new construction methods and materials so it is believed he would approve of the use of this material.

Scope of Work
Much of the interior of the building was restored during the 1992 renovation and addition by Gwathmey Siegel and Associates Architects. The present restoration primarily addresses the exterior of the original building and the infrastructure. This includes the skylights, windows, doors, concrete and gunite facades and exterior sidewalk, as well as the climate-control. The goal of the restoration project was to preserve as much significant historical fabric of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as possible, while accomplishing necessary repairs and attaining a suitable environment for the building’s continuing use as a museum.

Under the supervision of WASA project architects and structural engineers at RSA, both of whom worked on the restoration of Wright’s “Fallingwater” in Bear Run, PA, extensive on-site monitoring of the façade was performed, including laser scanning measurement of the building, materials testing, comprehensive documentation of structural elements, exploratory probes, non-destructive testing and advanced computer analysis of the building’s structural elements.

The monitoring program measured localized movements of cracks as well as overall movement of the walls. Crackmeters, tiltmeters, string potentiometers, temperature sensors, linear potentiometers and convergence meters were located throughout the building; a special focus of the monitoring was on the exterior walls. The data was used to understand the direction and magnitude of the wall movements and the magnitude of crack movements. This information was then correlated with the structural analytical model. Daily movements and seasonal movements were studied.

Highlights of the investigation included:

* As the paint removal was completed and the condition of the exposed surfaces was documented and assessed, the craftsmanship of the building was revealed for the first time in nearly fifty years. This included the plywood form marks that the gunite and concrete was applied against, and even the graining of the plywood. The restoration will maintain the authenticity of craftsmanship.

* Despite the cracks in the surface of the concrete and gunite, the material is in remarkably good condition as a result of having been protected from exposure to acid rain by a 1958 state-of-the-art coating, the “Cocoon,” an early version of an elastomeric paint which was being used to mothball World War II naval vessels.

* After extensive laboratory and accelerated weathering testing, mock-ups of proposed crack fillers, patch materials, and coatings were monitored through the changes in seasons to assure compatibility and performance.

* Crowning the top of the rotunda, the 6th Ramp wall is twice the height of the lower ramp walls and leans outward at a different slope. To account for the taller wall, during the original construction the wall reinforcing was modified and created discontinuities. Without the full investigation completed, these variations in construction details would not have been discovered and corrected.

* The distinctive geometry of the exterior walls means the top of the walls move in and out under daily and seasonal temperature changes. The team’s goal was not to change the way the wall moves, but to improve the performance and reinforce localized areas of discontinuity.

* New custom steel brackets reinforce the connection to the exterior gunite wall to the main structural web walls and apron slab. The brackets reinforce discontinuities in the original reinforcing attaching the exterior wall to the main building.

* Specialized hermetically sealed viscous dampers will support the top of the wall under significant wind loading but will not restrain the building

* Temperature and relative humidity monitoring of the interior and exterior of the building’s surface provided data that was used by the architects to make subtle improvements to the insulation of the exterior concrete and gunite, and to justify the installation of windows and skylights with insulated glass that replicate the originals, thereby greatly enhancing the museum’s controlled interior environment.

The total budget for the restoration is estimated at $29 million. The restoration has been made possible through the generous support of Peter B. Lewis, the Board of Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and the City of New York under the auspices of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the City Council, Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer, and the Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support has been provided by the State of New York. The restoration work is projected to be complete and the scaffolding to come down by late spring of 2008.

September 11, 2007

Eleanor Goldhar, Deputy Director for External Affairs, or
Betsy Ennis, Director, Public Affairs
Telephone: 212 423 3840

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