41st Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, May 30, “Fifteen Shades of Grey…? Paint Color Analysis on the Eames House,” by Emily MacDonald-Korth, Alan Phenix, Tom Learner, and Kyle Normandin

Charles & Ray Eames
Charles & Ray Eames

The Eames house was designed in 1949 by Charles and Ray Eames as the eighth house in the case study house program of the Arts & Architecture magazine. The Eames lived in the home until their deaths; after 1988 the house remained untouched. In 2011, the contents of the living room were reassembled at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for an exhibition. It was at this time that the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) provided investigation and scientific analysis to determine the conservation issues and plans for the house.  The 2011-2012 initiative of the Eames House conservation program was to determine the paint stratigraphy of the interior and exterior of the home.  This presentation discussed the approach, technology used, sample extraction, and findings for the Eames House investigation.
Eames House, Case Study House No. 8.  Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.
Eames House, Case Study House No. 8. Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.

The study included 15 samples and 6 in-situ investigations from the interior and exterior of the house.  In on-site storage, the team located painted plates and several date labeled paint cans that were used for comparison.  The team deployed the use of optical microscopy, EDS cross-sectional photo, micrographs, and stratigraphic examination in order to identify the layers of paint present.  It was noted that the limited number of samples may not represent all of the paint layers present, for this reason cross-sectional and in-situ excavation were used in conjunction of each other to cross reference findings.
Interior, Eames House, Case Study House No. 8.  Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.
Interior, Eames House, Case Study House No. 8. Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.

To begin the study, the team identified the known timeline of painting campaigns, for this they relied on historical documentation.  The following was known about the house:

  • 1949-House built
  • 1978-Charles’ death
  • 1978-repair campaign
  • 1988-Ray’s death
  • 1989-painting campaign
  • 1994-painting repair
  • 2003-painting campaign
  • The house & studio show similar paint layers, but the interiors differ


Interior, Eames House, Case Study House No. 8.  Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.
Interior, Eames House, Case Study House No. 8. Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.

Initial comparison of exterior cross-section and excavation indicate that the two areas have similar stratigraphy.  When in comparison, they were able to loosely date the layers to the appropriate painting campaigns. Paint extractions were then separated by paint layers and material composition.  The team was able to determine that the earlier paint layers were mixed through subtractive color mixing; this type of mixing technology indicates that great care went into the color mixing and selection process.
Eames House, Case Study House No. 8.  Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.
Eames House, Case Study House No. 8. Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.

Primer layers show that a warm grey was the first layer, with no evidence of dirt between the layers. At this time it was hypothesized that the exterior color was changed to black from 1978-1988. The paint analysis showed a series of gray paints with compositional overlap and two zinc based primer layers. Most samples have two layers below the zinc primer that are the same in composition to the exterior first two layers.  Based on these results, it was determined that the first generation warm gray layer exists on the interior and exterior of the house.

AIC's 41st Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, May 30, “Bringing Modern Back: restoring 1930s Aluminum Finishes,” by Helen M. Thomas-Haney and Xsusha Flandro

Pre-Restoration, 4th Avenue Station, Brooklyn, New York
Aluminum spandrel before restoration.

Helen M. Thomas-Haney and Xsusha Flandro discussed their research and investigation of restoring aluminum finishes at a train station.  Discovered in 1825 by Hans Christian Oersted, aluminum was used in jewelry and decorations into the mid-nineteenth century.  The first architectural use of aluminum in the United States was for the cap of the Washington Monument in 1884. As production increased and price decreased, aluminum began to be more widely used in commercially available products. By the 1920s, aluminum was being used on many buildings in Vienna, in modernist movement buildings, and on the Empire State Building.  Companies such as ALCOA Aluminum advertised aluminum as weather resistant and structurally sound.  It’s ease of being manipulated made aluminum popular as decorative ornamentation on exteriors, but also in Art Deco interiors.
Post-Restoration, 4th Avenue Station, Brooklyn, New York
Artistic rendering of aluminum spandrel, post-restoration.

Built in 1932, the train station was constructed of a copper roof, pine ceiling, and aluminum arch spandrels.  The station had alterations over the years, including lead paint, the addition of billboards that pierced the aluminum panels, and graffiti.  The conservation project began with research into project specifications, original drawings, and original finish specifications.  Through research and material evidence, it was clear that the aluminum spandrels had three different types of mechanical finishes.  Based on the historical terminology, these were identified as “satin”, “sand-blasted”, and “sand-blasted deplated”.  The station remained in service during the restoration, so precautions were taken during paint removal and repair work.  After the paint was removed, two different types of corrosion were revealed. Corrosion was especially significant in areas where the differing materials joined.  Based on the containment issues caused by sandblasting to remove corrosion, other means of removal were necessary.  Some corroded areas were patched and repaired, while other panels were taken offsite for restoration.
Post-Restoration interior, 4th Avenue Station, Brooklyn, New York
Artistic rendering of station interior, post-restoration.

After surface preparation, the finishes were recreated in-situ.  The “satin” finish was recreated by hand sanding with a coating to prevent corrosion.  Initially, a bristle-blaster was used for the “sand-blasted” finish, but it did not complete the desired effect.  The team later used aluminum oxide blasting for the finish.  The “sand-blasted deplated” finish was completed with an aluminum patination process with a black patina buffed to gray.
Post-Restoration, 4th Avenue Station, Brooklyn, New York
Artistic rendering of spandrel, post-restoration.

41st Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, May 30, Panel: "Collaboration in Design: Working with Architects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)” with Craig Dykers, Sam Anderson, Ruth Berson, and Jill Sterrett

War Memorial Veterans Building, 1935
War Memorial Veterans Building, Van Ness Avenue, 1935

With just a day between the ground breaking ceremony at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the 2013 AIC conference, panelists Ruth Berson, Craig Dykers, Jill Sterett, and Sam Anderson once again came together to discuss the debates and collaborations that resulted in the “generous, magnetic, and transformative” design for the SFMOMA expansion.  Each of the panelists were representative of the variety of programs and interests that had to be addressed in a project of this scale.  This project began with generosity of the Fisher family of San Francisco. The institutional history of the SFMOMA was an important consideration before beginning to search for project architects.  The SFMOMA had humble beginnings on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans building.  As it developed its own collection, the SFMOMA out grew the 1935 beaux arts building and needed it own dedicated building.  In 1988 Mario Botta was selected to design the new building.  Within fifteen years, the museum had brought in the Fisher collection and expanded its own holdings leading to the need for additional space. The new building on Third Street opened in 1995, marking the 60th anniversary of the museum.
Due to open in 2016, the expansion will add 235,000 square feet to the SFMOMA complex and will “seamlessly join the existing Mario Botta-designed building with a new addition.”  The project will more add more than 6 times the current public space.  There is also offsite storage for the museums expanded collection.
See: http://www.sfmoma.org/our_expansion
SFMOMA, Third Street, Mario Bota, 1995

Ruth Berson, SFMOMA staff member and Deputy Museum Director for Curatorial Affairs, began the discussion with “Why expand-‘Why Between the What'”.  Ruth participated in the design by contributing to the space planning and design development process.  The planning process included an international search for architects,capital campaign, and the identification of the design intent.  First priorities were Magnetic, Transformative, and Generous.  Secondary words were added as guiding principles: Open, Distinctive, and Passionate.  All of the priorities and principles led to a design that was artist centric, collection driven, and civic minded.  In efforts to remain artist centric, artists were sometimes contacted to discuss the space.  The new design used the guiding principles by expanding the program to include white space for events, performance art, and meetings.  Technological advances were made to enhance the visitor experience, while also being mindful of the uniqueness of the collection and its unique holdings.  Another goal was to meet LEED expectations and expanding the museums education programs.  After the SnOhetta was selected as the architect a collaborative conversation took place between Craig Dykers and Mario Bota.  Bota stated that “I had my moment with the building, now it is SnoHetta’s turn………I will withhold my opinions until after it is finished.”
Craig Dykers, Principal of SnOhetta Architects, continued the discussion with the “SnOhetta Response”. Craig reiterated the importance of the institutional history to the design process and added that architects were not selected based off of a proposed design. It was a selection process based on the architects knowledge of the SFMOMA. The building is surrounded by six to seven streets with turn of the century buildings.  Based on the design priorities, SnOhetta wished to activate these areas with new entrances and to add a public collection space with an open area for free public access.  This new “art court” will also serve as a transition space between neighborhood and the building.  It was important to the design team to balance the traditional and new buildings that surround the SFMOMA.  Machines and daylighting systems were integrated into the design to protect and enhance the museum collection.  The facades of the new building were modeled off of the quality of light and rippling water that is unique to San Francisco.  With each step in the design process, SnOhetta remained mindful of the priorities and guiding principles to establish continuity to the overall design.
Jill Sterett, SFMOMA staff member and Director of  Collections and Conservation, discussed the use of “Collections as a Directive” in the design process.  Jill explained that the team took cues from the Public, Education, and San Francisco itself in order to inform their decisions. The artists and the relationships that they keep with them are the center of the SFMOMA.  It was important that the new offsite storage facility is a dynamic space. The new space will have capacity for collection study, research, photography, carpentry, packing/crating, and big sculpture conservation.  These stipulations required the team to reframe the question of how to activate the collection in two different spaces.  The expansion/new building will be divided into storage, public space, conservation, and staff areas.  The lower levels will hold the support and collection areas-this is conceived as a dynamic storage area and not static.  It will be viewed as a n operating set of suites.  Throughout the new zones, the initiatives and priorities will act as directives for accomplishing the project goals.
Sam Anderson, Principal of Samuel Anderson Architects, wrapped up the discussion with “Engagement of Specialized Areas Integrated into the Overall Plan”.  Sam added that the mechanical systems had to respond to the climate and the program.  It was important that these strategies were specifically designed for each circumstance. With such dynamic spaces, it became a question of how to fit multiple and growing functions into one program design.  The permanent photography collection will be stored on-site, but the lower levels of the building will also serve as transient art storage.  In addition to addressing the on-site storage needs, it was important to plan for areas for staging and mounting.  In response to the climatic considerations, it was a priority to address the potential for seismic activity.  The solution for the concerns had to also be functional within the program of the building.  Each individual off-stage space was is therefore integrated with the next, for instance the conservation labs are integrated through a vertical visual connection.
In all aspects of the design, it was important to maintain collaboration between the architects, designers, and museum staff in order to address the clearly identified priorities and guiding principles of the museum.  As the work progresses towards a completion goal of 2016, the two year preparation and planning period was integral to the success of the SFMOMA expansion.

41st Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, May 30, “Breaking the Cycle:the Role of Monitoring in the Watts Towers Conservation Project,” by Sylvia Schwerin Dorsch, Blanka Kielb, and Frank Preusser

Photo by Lucien den Arend
Photo by Lucien den Arend

The Watts Tower was created by Sabato Rodia from 1921-1954 and was constructed without the use of mechanical methods. It is composed of Portland cement, steel, ornamentation (glass, tile, stones, sea shells), wire mesh, and armature. Now a National Historic Landmark, the towers and other sculptures are showing signs of deterioration and material loss.  Beginning in 2011, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the City of Los Angeles collaborated to conduct a materials evaluation in order to update the conservation plan and identify a new maintenance routine. Initial observations and investigations identified some of the issues to be mortar cracking, loss of ornament, armature corrosion from past treatments, adhesive and cohesive failures, and incompatibility of repair materials (i.e.,hydraulic cement, Portland cement, and traditional materials). The conservators wanted to better understand what repairs were successful and new causes of deterioration.
Photo by Lucien den Arend
Photo by Lucien den Arend

The team established a hypothesis that included multiple contributing factors to the deterioration of the towers.  These factors included environmental concerns such as seismic and wind loads, but also thermal expansion, stresses, and moisture intrusion.  Adjoining materials with different rates of thermal expansion led to the eventual detachment of ornamentation.  With support from the UCLA engineering department, the team utilized displacement monitors to monitor the cracks in the tower.  The team also employed infared thermography to visualize the heat profile of the central tower while also using time lapse photography.  The results indicated that there was an uneven heating and cooling of central core.  In conjunction with the displacement monitors, a tilt meter, accelerometer and thermocouples were used to measure the displacements caused by the thermal loading.  It was determined that the central tower had a north tilt due to thermal expansion during the day.  The accelerometer data also showed an increase in vibration frequency with change in temperature.
Another concern were the wind loads caused by the Santa Anna winds hailing from the deserts in the months of October through March.  The winds caused ornament loss due to increase of movement and vibration.  It was also determined that new cracks formed and existing cracks widened and narrowed during wind events.  A dynamic wind sensor and weather station were used to monitor rain, temperature, humidity, and wind speed.  The sensors confirmed that wind and seismic activity affected the tower, tilting the tower in correlation with wind speed.  Two wind events in October 2012 and January 2013 corresponded with the base crack displacements.
The team concluded that it was necessary to accept that movement occurs and that re-treatment is necessary.  To limit the amount of necessary intervention, it was important to use flexible repair materials that allowed for  movement, such as elastomeric crack fillers.  Polymer modified mortars with lower modulus of elasticity and flexible adhesives for ornament would also allow for movement.  The treatment plan also included initiatives to slow the corrosion rate, increase the water repellancy and to modify the environment to provide a wind break northeast of the towers.  It is also necessary to re-scan the tower every five years to determine if long term displacement has occurred.