Brick House Restoration


The Brick House Restoration Project will serve as a model for the preservation of Modernist heritage.  It is the first comprehensive Modernist preservation project on the Philip Johnson Glass House site under National Trust stewardship.

The Brick House was designed as both a companion piece and counterpoint in the original Glass House composition completed in 1949. The Restoration Project scope of work includes exterior and interior restoration of the building, conservation of the interior finishes and collections, and mechanical upgrades and improvements. The scope of work also includes site drainage improvements appropriate to the landscape of the site.

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Historic Background

The Glass House is comprised of two structures engaged in a dynamic dialogue of opposites: One constructed in Glass and one constructed in Brick.  Given the vital role of the Brick House in the composition, it is one of the most important structures and a central asset of the property.

The Brick House (aka the Guest House) was designed in conjunction with the Glass House during 1945-1948 and completed in 1949. The two buildings, situated in a bi-axial plan with landscaped courtyard, were conceived as one design, the solidity of the Brick House serving as a counterpoint to the transparency of the Glass House.

The Brick House’s Flemish bond façade is only interrupted with a full-height door at the west façade and three oversize round windows on the east façade at rear. The round windows were chosen to be the least disruptive design to the continuity of the brick plane. Both buildings are 56’ feet long with the Brick House only being be half as deep. The Brick House contains all the mechanical support systems below grade that serve both buildings by means of a tunnel under the central court. It has a flat roof with three skylights over the central hall.

The interior originally contained three guestrooms and bath. It was remodeled in 1953 to create one large master bedroom and a study. In the master bedroom a series of vaults were installed at the ceiling and the walls were covered in Fortuny silk. The bathroom was remodeled in the 1980s and finished with rich, veined grey marble cladding and brass fixtures.

The Brick House has been closed to the public since 2008. The building has suffered from high levels of moisture due to poor site drainage, inadequate foundation waterproofing, breaches in the main roof and flashing as well as a lack of any interior mechanical ventilation system. While the exterior masonry envelope is in good condition, the wooden windows and main door have suffered from high levels of moisture and deferred maintenance. High levels of moisture have resulted in mold affecting the interior finishes and collections, including the Fortuny silk wall coverings, textiles, furniture, artwork and books.

Project Schedule

In the fall of 2009, competitive proposals were solicited from project teams interested in providing architectural, engineering and conservation services. Ultimately, 23 interdisciplinary teams, representing the country’s leading preservation firms, submitted proposals.  After a challenging selection process, a team led by Li/Saltzman Architects of New York City was hired in December 2009.

In January 2010 work began on research, non-destructive testing and site survey in preparation for the Schematic Design phase. The next phase, Design Development, was completed in February 2011. A collaborative National Trust and Li/Saltzman Architects design team meeting will occur prior to the commencement of the Construction Documents (CD) phase. Construction will begin on-site following the CD phase and restoration work will move ahead shortly thereafter, with the objective to reopen the Brick House to the public as soon as possible.

Brick House Restoration Project Team

Mary Kay Judy, Project Manager • Barbara Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP, NTHP Graham Gund Architect • Greg Sages, Irene Allen, Brendan Tobin, Philip Johnson Glass House • Li/Saltzman Architects • Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., Site/Civil and Structural Engineering • Altieri Sebor Wieber LLC, Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineers • J. Baldwin Conservation LLC, Book and Paper Conservation • LCA Associates, Carpet Conservation • Period Furniture Conservation, LLC, Furniture Conservation • Spicer Art Conservation LLC, Textile Conservation • Catherine Matsen Consulting, Laboratory Testing Consultants • Slocum Consulting, Cost Estimating • Boston Lead Company, LLC, Hazardous Materials Consultants • GB Geotechnics USA Inc., Non-Destructive Testing Consultants • Precon Logstrat, LLC, Probe Consultant • Matthew Nielsen Landscape Architects • Bruce Spiewak, Code Consultant • Warren Panzer Engineers, P.C., Environmental Consultants • Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design • Care of Trees, Arborists • Historical Perspectives, Archeology.

Photo Credits

From top to bottom: 1. The Brick House. Photo: Julius Shulman and Juergen Nogai 2. Exterior wall restoration detail 3. Brick House Bedroom. Photo: Carol Highsmith 4. Brick House exterior wall. Photo: Steve Brosnahan 5. Brick House Door. Photo: Jake diPietro 6. Photo published in Library of Contemporary Architects: Philip Johnson, text by Charles Noble. Photo: Yukio Fatagawa, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972 7. Site surveying and roof conditions. Photo: The Philip Johnson Glass House  8. Preliminary furniture survey by Period Furniture Conservation, LLC.  Photo: Mary Kay Judy

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 books that were housed in the Brick House library were Johnson’s private personal collection. Johnson's art and architecture books are housed in the Library/Study building, located on the Glass House property and accessible to the public on the Modern Friends or Private Tour. In a strange turn of events, the Brick House books had been overlooked by earlier estate appraisers as relatively insignificant collections of trade paperbacks and contemporary travel guides. However, the Brick House Restoration project’s focus on the Brick House and its collections has brought their significance to light.

Several years earlier, Irene Shum Allen, the Glass House Curator and Collections Manager, recognized the value of the book collection and invited book conservator Jean Baldwin to do an informal consultation in 2008. Shum Allen and Baldwin came to see the collection’s insight as a very intimate portrait of Johnson the person, beyond his public architectural persona. The library contains his childhood Greek and Latin textbooks, his father Homer Johnson’s Baedeker travel guides, as well as editions Philip Johnson collected on his trips to Europe between the World Wars- books that would have been inaccessible in the United States at that time, beginning with his first trip with Henry Russell Hitchcock in preparation for the MOMA International Style exhibition 1930. According to Baldwin, the books had been maintained in beautiful condition and Johnson clearly prized the collection.

Jean Baldwin later formally joined the Li/Saltzman Architects (LSA) consultant team to assess and to create a conservation plan for the collection. She cautioned during her initial assessment at the Glass House property that the potential threat of the mold could still affect the books even though they had been removed from the Brick House. It was at her recommendation the the books were stored off-site in a more stable environment. As such, Warren & Panzer were also charged with testing the book collection in its off-site location. In August, the art storage facility called the selected box of books containing five representative volumes labeled for testing into an exanimation room. (Photo 1) At the facility, James Cohn was able to examine each book for visible evidence of mold damage and collect swab samples for laboratory analysis.  (Photo 2 & 3) The results of the book testing will be included in the collections analysis to incorporated into the final Schematic Design report.

Photo 1: Books identified for representative testing shipped to off-site art storage. Photo 2: James Cohn of Warren & Panzer visually inspects each book to determine sampling locations. Pictured here: German-English dictionary. Photo 3: Collecting a swab sample on a copy on an early edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Photos courtesy of Mary Kay Judy.

July 2010:

Once the mechanical system strategy for the Brick House was finalized in June, to ensure the future of the collections, focus shifted back to the actual multi-disciplinary conservation of the collection itself. In the spring, the design team’s conservators assessed all the objects including furniture, textiles, finishes and books and made preliminary recommendations for treatment. However, many of these recommendations were contingent on the results of environmental and mold testing. The firm Warren & Panzer (W&P) was selected for testing the collections, on and off-site, as well as the building materials and finishes on the interior of the building.

Prior to commencing work, James Cohn of W & P, offered an overview of mold investigation. It is important to note that mold is a fungus that can only effect organic materials and always naturally present in the environment even when it cannot be detected visibility or by smell. Active mold spores are detected by the presence of “hyphae” or threadlike structures upon which the spores grow. If spores are detected without hyphae, it means that the spores are not active, but since spores do not decay- they can remain present in an environment or on objects. However, whether spores are active or not, they both can act as allergens.

To look for spores and active hyphae in the Brick House and collections, W & P employed four techniques as a means for collecting samples for the project including 1. ) removal of small inconspicuous pieces of the building materials, 2.) a vacuum which has a feature to collect dust particulates, 3.) a cotton swab and 4) tape lift. The sample collected from the four methods were all then sent to a lab for full microscopic analysis.

The first step was to remove the furniture and textiles from the Marvaseal chamber where they had remained enclosed since their treatment in May. To properly open the chamber, a small cut was carefully made near the floor and any remaining argon gas was able slowly to leak out. After allowing the chamber to deflate, the Marvaseal was removed and the treated objects were moved outside for testing.  The morning’s schedule had been closely coordinated so that after the chamber was opened, the pieces would be tested and then immediately moved off-site into climate controlled storage. The mold testing for the furniture and textiles was done by capturing samples with a small vacuum. (Photo 1)

Concurrently, W & P began marking out a plan for a representative sampling of building materials and finishes at the Brick House interior. Since it was known that the building had suffered from water infiltration- coupled with the lack of humidity climate control, the greatest concern was that the Celotex wall insulation would be effected by mold and moisture damage.

The exterior masonry wall is load-bearing brick with a wooden frame. The wood frame studs are set approximately 24” on center. The studs on the interior of the wall are covered with
Celotex brand insulation panels, which are backed with aluminum sheeting. Plaster was applied to the walls directly on the Celotex insulation panels. Celotex is organic insulation wall board that was made from pressed bagasse, which is a by-product of sugar cane processing.

Samples of Celotex were taken by cutting a small hole in the plaster finish to allow access into the wall cavity and the Celotex panels. (Photo 2, 3)   Celotex samples were also taken in the bedroom by opening the Fortuny fabric at the seams to reveal the wall for sampling. While laboratory testing and analysis is not complete, it was observed that the Celotex samples were dry and had no visible mold growth. Finish testing was done using the tape-lift method. Final results for the materials, finishes and collections are expected in August.

Photo 1
: Mold testing with small vacuum.  Photo 2, 3: Celotex samples removal
Photos courtesy of Mary Kay Judy.

June 2010:

Photo 1: Two cloth-bound German language books in Johnson's private collection dating from the 1920s, including a translation of the Russian writer Gogol. Photo Mary Kay Judy. Photo 2: Interior view of the study with furniture, textiles and artwork before items were removed for protection and storage in preparation for the building restoration. Photo courtesy of the Glass House. Photo 3: Period photo (1950s) in bedroom looking towards the dressing area at the north end of the building.  The area above the dressing room was later refit for Johnson for an A/C handler and vents and will house the building's desiccant system after restoration. Photo courtesy of the Glass House.

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. 

May 2010: 

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)

April 2010:

Photo 1: Consultant and NTHP team meeting. Photo Mary Kay Judy. Photo 2: Beck House fabric. Photo Mary Kay Judy. Photo 3: Bill Louche filling the chamber with argon gas. Photo Mary Kay Judy.

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. 

March 2010:

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.

February 2010:

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 2010

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.

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