Reports from the Field: Mary Kay Judy, Restoration Project Coordinator
August 2010:After all the Brick House furniture and textile collections were tested, they were safely shipped to an off-site art storage facility in Brooklyn, NY, where the books had been sent in April 2010. Before the books were removed from their shelves in the library in the Brick House, they were photographed and documented in-situ, as to their original location and shelving order. The books were boxed by shelf and clearly labeled with a distinct identifying number for when they will be returned to the Brick House. To ensure an environment conducive to their long-term preservation, the books were relocated from storage on the Glass House property to the art storage facility.
The consultant team continued to focus on refining the scope for the long-term conservation of the Brick House collections during the month of June. Most notably, controlling interior humidity, which had been one of the primary concerns at the outset of the project.
To mitigate the humidity, Philip Steiner (AltieriSeborWieber, LLC), the team’s lead mechanical engineer, designed a system that would employ a desiccate system for the dehumidification of both the bedroom and study with individual humidistats. The proposed desiccant equipment would be placed above the ceiling in the dressing room in the bedroom where it will remain concealed.
Mr. Steiner had employed a similar desiccant technique for a collection of bronzes in the late 1990’s at the newly constructed Richard Meier Getty Center where ASW designed the mechanical systems for the museum environment. The bronzes had been transferred from the Getty Villa during its renovation, and were placed in a temporary exhibition gallery where they were found to be susceptible to the high levels of local humidity. Steiner's solution for the conservation of the bronzes was to install a desiccant system to be used in the temporary exhibition space until they could later moved back to the Getty Villa - where the temperature and humidity levels were carefully calibrated for the collection.
In addition to the introduction of the mechanical system for dehumidification at the Brick House, the proposed scope of work also included waterproofing repairs of the building envelope and foundation, as well as the replacement of the main and sub-grade mechanical room roofs. However, there remained lingering concern for the potential damage that could occur to the collection’s textiles, furniture and books in extremely high temperatures. (Photo 1) For instance, the furniture collection’s Gaetano Pesce felt chairs are impregnated with resin which is susceptible to expansion and deformation in high temperatures - notably for high spikes during the summer months in New Canaan. (Photo 2)
Typical solutions for controlling temperature spikes and humidity are often to introduce air conditioning. With the humidity concern resolved by the desiccant system, there remained the challenge of the potential for uncontrolled high temperatures. Even though Philip Johnson had himself installed air conditioning into the Brick House bedroom with a large condenser unit outside the building on the east façade, it was not deemed an appropriate solution to replace.
Reportedly, the A/C unit was installed by Johnson in the 1980’s and removed in the late 1990’s. The ghosts of the penetrations are still visible on the masonry façade at the northeast corner. Furthermore, the period of interpretation of the Brick House is approximately 2002, after the unit would have already been removed. Ironically, the space Johnson created above the dressing area for the A/C air handler will now be used by the desiccant unit. (Photo 3) Thus presented the problem that there were limited ways to introduce cooling- without adding equipment that would change the appearance of the building, site and the original design intention.
The challenge then for Steiner was twofold: to design a cooling system without introducing visible equipment, while addressing only temperatures spikes- as opposed to creating and maintaining a year- round museum like environment. An ideal museum environment is 72 degree Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 50 percent.
The proposed was solution was to introduce a fan coil for cooling into the ducts for the desiccant systems using closed loop geothermal well. Geothermal wells, according to Steiner, have been in use in Europe for decades, but have only become popular in the United States within the last ten years in response to rising energy costs and greater environmental awareness. It is an ideal solution for the Brick House since the equipment essentially will not be visible to the visitor or impact the site. As proposed, the cooling system will be controlled by an automatic switch when the interior temperatures reach 80 degrees.
It should be noted that the building’s heat is supplied by a radiant floor system as per Johnson’s design that is original to the building’s construction in 1949. The radiant heat system will be retained and copper tubing system will be replaced during the restoration process. Philip Steiner and his firm AltieriSeborWieber, LLC, based in Connecticut, have also worked on other significant museum environments in the United States and in Latin America including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s period rooms, the MOMA expansion by Yoshio Taniguchi and the Gwathmey Siegel’s addition to the Guggenheim.
Photo 1: Detail of termite damage at wall stud in study, revealed during probes. Photo Mary Kay Judy. Photo 2: Period photo (approx 1953)of the bedroom, note covered windows at left. Photo by Ezra Stoller. Photo 3: View of the "Marvaseal" chamber with furniture and fabric encolsed for treatment. Photo Mary Kay Judy.
During the month of May, the Preservation Planning Draft report was circulated to all parties for review and comment. The review period prompted new discussions about the need for additional scopes of work that had not been identified earlier. New considerations were discussed including engaging additional consultants for the project including an arborist, exterminator, lighting consultant and an archeologist. An arborist was deemed necessary to review the root systems of the neighboring trees at the east and south sides of the building that could be potentially effected by the proposed excavation for foundation waterproofing. Two exterminators were asked to evaluate site conditions to and prepare proposals to address the limited termite damage that was observed on an interior wall stud though a probe. The damage was observed by the consultant team in the field, however, it is not known the extant of damage or if the termites are active. (Photo 1)
A lighting consultant was also considered to help guide the process of finding a replacement bulb for the perimeter bedroom lighting system that would both recreate the distinctive soft, rosy light of the original 1953 scheme- while providing greater energy efficiency- if and wherever possible. It was also reported by the fabric conservator that the original bulbs in the lighting design had caused significant fading of the Fortuny fabric over time.
Terri Anderson, the John & Neville Bryan Director of Museum Collections at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, noted that the quality of light in the Brick House is highly significant since it is an enclosed space with artificial lighting as opposed to the open quality and natural light which floods the Glass House. (Photo 2) It was also confirmed that during the one year the Brick House was open to the public the window covers and sliding fabric panels were in place in the bedroom, blocking all natural light- further enhancing the significance of the role of artificial lighting in the building.
In addition, due to the proposed excavation on the site around the perimeter of the building and across the lawn for new site drainage, an RFP was issued for a consulting archeology firm for the project to provide a Brick House site assessment and monitoring services.
In regard to the collections, the felt chairs and other fabric materials remained enclosed in the air-tight, “Marvaseal” chamber on-site. The objects will remain in the chamber until the final course of testing and conservation methodology is determined. (Photo 3)
In the last week of March, a series of working meetings were held in New York to discuss the preliminary findings and recommendations for the Brick House restoration. The meetings brought together all the consulting specialists, the Director and staff from New Canaan as well as from the Washington DC headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The meeting created a dynamic forum for discussion and exchange of ideas and guiding preservation philosophies moving forward. (Photo 1)
An interesting finding presented by the fabric conservator, Gwen Spicer, was that the Fortuny fabric on the bedroom walls was in fact cotton- and not silk, as it had been previously assumed based on the finish. Ms. Spicer had been able to locate a new matching sample of the fabric, based on a 16th century Persian design, which revealed the original colors and vibrancy of the print. She also compared the installation in the Brick House to the Beck House dining room, also designed by Johnson, in Texas, which has been recently restored. The restoration team in Texas donated the original Beck House fabric to the Glass House for archival study. (Photo 2) View the NY Times profile of the restoration of Beck House.
The next day another collaborative meeting was held as an “Eco-Charrette” to explore the suitability of the Brick House restoration for LEED rating and other opportunities to integrate sustainability into the design of the project. Following the meetings, the team members incorporated their presentations with recommendations from the meetings into a comprehensive final report that was submit in mid-April to be circulated to all parties for review.
In the meantime, several immediate steps were taken to ensure the protection of the interior collections that were in temporary storage elsewhere on the site in New Canaan. All of the books from Johnson’s private library in the study were moved to a climate controlled art storage facility in Brooklyn. The felt Pesce chairs and other fabric pieces from the bedroom and study that had exhibited signs of insect attack were treated by Bill Louche of Art Care International. (Photo 3) The items were enclosed in a custom, airtight chamber that was filled with argon gas to create an interior environment devoid of oxygen. The items will remain in the chamber for a minimum of six weeks.
Photo 1: GBG Inc. completes non-destructive infrared examination of roof; Photo 2: Excavations were made at the mechanical room roof to determine waterproofing configurations; Photo 3: Preparations for roof core and probe at the north facade.
As part of the Brick House’s on-going investigations, two full days in early March were dedicated to the completion of non-destructive testing, destructive probes and hazardous materials testing at the Brick House. Before the commencement of destructive probes, GBG Inc. performed infrared and other non-destructive testing at the facades to determine the presence of brick ties and any recognizable pattern of water infiltration. The interior floors were also scanned to determine if there were any signs of leaks or deterioration in the radiant heating system which is original to the house. The final non-destructive tests included a roof scan to in an effort to understand if- and where- water was infiltrating and collecting under the membrane.
Excavations and preparation for destructive testing by Leland Torrence Enterprises and PreCon LogStrat LLC took place alongside hazardous materials testing by Boston Valley Lead LLC. Haz-mat testing included both building materials and finishes, as well environmental testing for mold. On the exterior of the building, a roof core was taken at the central low-point and a membrane probe was done at the north facade.
At the north façade, below the bathroom vent, mortar was observed to be loose and crumbling. As such, it was an ideal place to remove several bricks to inspect the wall cavity condition and construction. The mortar was carefully hand-chiseled to remove three bricks allowing access into the wall. After inspecting the roof and masonry probe, it was decided to proceed with temporarily removing the roof flashing to allow greater access into the area. On the interior, probes were important to understanding the framing construction and wall system.
Photo 4: Lead paint testing at the bedroom window frame; Photo 5: Inspecting the interior of the roof constructin and conditions using a boroscope inserted into the roof probe. Photo 6: Study probe with the aluminum folded up for inspection, wooden sheathing beyond.
A total of four probes were made at the north wall in the bedroom and study at points above and below the circular windows, the base of the wall and at the ceiling. Interior probes revealed the Celotex insulation and aluminum sheeting that was intended, in conjunction with the radiant floor heat system, to create a “radiant heat” for the building. After thorough documentation and investigation of the probes, members of the consultant team from Thornton Tomasetti used boroscopes with flexible arms to further examine surrounding conditions at the exterior and interior probes.
Photo 1: The collections consultant team commencing work on site. Photo 2: Period Furniture Conservation, LLC Photo 3: Gwen Spicer opening a seam in the bedroom Fortuny fabric wall covering. Photo 4: Detail of Fortuny fabric and backing. Photo 5: Irene Allen selecting the forty volumes to be evaluated from the book collection. Photo 6: "Works of Nicolas Machiavelli" from the book collection. Photo 7: Leslie Berman taking carpet samples for analysis and reproduction. Photo credit Mary Kay Judy.
On-site conservation assessments and evaluations began in February with a focus on the Brick House furniture collections and textiles. (Photo 1) The furniture collection was moved to another building on-site several years for protection, due to increasing humidity and environmental concerns problems in the Brick House. Period Furniture LLC continued their work documenting the condition of each piece including the boar and horse hair mattress and box spring custom made in the Bronx. Furniture finish analysis and identification was also performed on each piece. (Photo 2)
Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the furniture collections, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation collaborated with Period Furniture LLC on the furniture textiles such as the heavy-weight felt Gaetano Pesce chairs. Ms. Spicer also began studying the Fortuny fabric first hand in the Brick House bedroom. After carefully removing staples by hand below the central round wooden window frame, she delicately opened the vertical seam of the fabric and lining. Opening up the fabric allowed insight into the fabric’s condition and installation, as well as revealing the condition of the bedroom walls themselves- which are completely covered by the fabric. (Photo 3, 4)
The off-white bedroom carpet had also been removed from the house to be cleaned and then kept in storage until the work began in January. The carpet was taken out of storage and unrolled for inspection. Citing the improbility of the original carpet’s reinstallation, it was decided that samples would be taken for analysis and reproduction. (Photo 5)
The book collection that had been housed in the study’s floor-to-ceiling, built-in book cases had also been removed from the Brick House due to environmental concerns. The books, numbering over 3,000 editions, were all photographed on their shelf and then packed for storage respectively. The Brick House collection is Philip Johnson personal collection, as opposed to his architecture and design books, and encompasses a wide range of topics from his signed textbooks, to travel guides and several rare books including Machiavelli. (Photo 6)
The prospect of assessing and conserving the entire collection was deemed too prohibitive at this phase. As such, it was decided that a sampling of the collection would be assessed by the team’s book conservator, Jean Baldwin, to serve as a guide for future efforts. Forty books were selected by Irene Allen to represent a range of the collection by type, age, condition and former physical location on the shelves of the Brick House. (Photo 7)
January marks the landmark commencement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Brick House Restoration located on the Philip Johnson Glass House site: work began on research, non-destructive testing and site survey in preparation for the Schematic Design phase.