Track 3: DELIVERY – INTERVENING INTO HISTORIC PLACES / Volet 3 : Réalisation – Intervenir dans les lieux historiques

Preserving Wright: A Sustainable Preservative System for the Exterior Wood of the Pope-Leighey House

Saturday, October 14
1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Andrew Fearon, Pamela Kirschner and Ashley Wilson, AIA

Within Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1953 publication The Natural House, his writing on Usonian design expounds upon a reduction of organic architecture into an economic simplification citing the elimination of paint entirely in favor of a “coating of clear resinous oil”. While the architect’s ideals for a more egalitarian form for the American house are illustrated throughout the text, investigation of a surviving Usonian example suggest that his intentions for exterior wood are still largely subject to interpretation.
Beginning in 2011, research funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was undertaken to determine an appropriate finish for the exterior wood of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House (1940). Although research and instrumental analysis (FTIR) indicates the surface was originally waxed, the documentary record describes the treatment as lasting only a year. The finish chronology follows with different remedies to address problems of deterioration including UV damage, biological staining, fungal decay, and general discontinuity of the buildings surface. In response to these ongoing conditions, several exterior coating products were evaluated for the reintegration and retention of the original cypress siding. Accuracy to Frank Lloyd Wright’s intent, VOC content, re-treatability and ease of implementation were the final guiding criteria for selection. In situ and external test panels of different products were monitored over four years to yield a selected finish that is both minimally invasive while promoting the greatest longevity of the siding through a re-treatable cyclical maintenance program. In 2014, accelerated weathering (QUV) of the selected system was conducted to help quantify the efficacy of the treatment. The proposed solution was further field tested through large scale mock-ups and refined. The final three-step finishing process was implemented full scale in 2015 for its ease of application, gentleness and effectiveness. The program proved cost effective through the integration of volunteer labor and minimal material investment. In 2017 the project was further evaluated to gauge the longevity and effectiveness of the first maintenance cycle.
This historic materials research, scientific analysis, field testing and pilot treatment allows for further understanding of Frank Lloyd Wright’s intent for exterior wood while providing a sustainable preservative system for the conservation of wooden cultural heritage. The presented findings of the six year endeavor offer new solutions to problems of weathering through a pragmatic stewardship that is consistent with the design ideologies of the studied Usonian building form.

Learning Objectives:

Andrew Fearon, AIC-PA

Chief Architectural Conservator
Materials Conservation

Since 1995, Andrew Fearon has worked in the field of conservation encompassing architecture, decorative arts, and archaeological materials. In 2006 he joined the Phiadelphia based firm Materials Conservation where he currently serves as Chief Architectural Conservator specializing in wood, architectural finishes, and masonry. Among his completed projects include the exterior finishes of Jefferson’s Monticello, The Rodin Museum Interior Finishes, and Louis Kahn’s Esherick House. Since 2010 he has served as lecturer in wood conservation as part of University of Pennsylvania Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. He holds an MSc degree from University of Pennsylvania and has completed the ICCROM Wood Course in Oslo, Norway. Andrew currently serves as board member for APT's Delaware Valley Chapter and Docomomo's Philadelphia Chapter. He is also a Bureau member of ICOMOS's Scientific Committee for Wood and is the Chair of The American Institutes for Conservation Architecture Specialty Group.



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Susan Ross

Assistant Professor/Undergraduate Supervisor
Carleton University


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Preserving Wright: A Sustainable Preservative System for the Exterior Wood of the Pope-Leighey House

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