Guggenheim Comes Up With Plans for Restoring Structure

BY KATE TAYLOR - Staff Reporter of the Sun
September 27, 2006

With little fanfare, the Guggenheim Museum has arrived at a plan for restoring its iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building. Scaffolding has been up on the building for more than a year, during which intensive testing was done to determine how extensive a renovation the exterior would need.

There is good news and bad news in the tests' conclusions.The good news is that the numerous cracks in the building's exterior, which the museum worried might necessitate a complete overhaul of the façade, can be filled.

The bad news is that the museum has to replace all of its windows and skylights, which have been plagued with condensation.

Unwanted moisture has been a curse for many of Wright's buildings. The architect's famous indifference to leaks is expressed in a well-known, and probably apocryphal, story: Herbert "Hib" Johnson, for whom Wright designed a huge house called Wingspread, in Wisconsin, is supposed to have telephoned Wright in the middle of a dinner party to complain that a roof leak was dripping right onto his head. "Well, Hib," Wright supposedly responded, "why don't you move your chair?"

The preservation architect for the Guggenheim's restoration, Wank Adams Slavin Associates, also handled the restoration in the 1990's of another of Wright's famous buildings, Fallingwater, in western Pennsylvania. WASA's director of preservation, Pamela Jerome, said that Fallingwater had over 50 chronic leaks, some of them caused by condensation. "There were a million reasons why water was leaking –– most of them his design," she said. "It was a design-based pathology."

Ms. Jerome takes a humorous attitude toward the practical failings of Wright's constructions. "He was a fabulous designer. He was very concerned with aesthetics, less so with the details of making things watertight or structurally sound," she said. "It's up to people like WASA to basically figure out how to make these buildings function better."

The Guggenheim declined to comment on the restoration. The museum will host a presentation by the architects later in the fall, before the actual work begins. The project is expected to cost $28 million, of which city contributed $7 million.

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