Archive for May, 2014

Farnsworth House 2014

May 14, 2014

I have been involved with Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois for over a decade. I recall vividly the day (December 12, 2003) Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully bid on the house at Sotheby’s in New York, saving it from the possibility of being dismantled and moved to another place. Like all great architecture, the Farnsworth House was designed for its specific location along the Fox River, and this context is part of its significance.
farnsworth11 grtS
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou are more lovely and more tempered…
distant viewS

Now, that context has been altered many times. Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who commissioned the house in 1946, moved in (weekends) in 1951 and used it for twenty years, basically kept the wild landscape. When the state condemned part of her land and built a noisy road and bridge near the house in the early 1970s, she sold it to Lord Peter Palumbo, who planted trees to screen the road, landscaped the whole grounds with Lanning Roper into more of the traditional lawn we see today. Then, to top it off, the tree that framed the house from the river side finally totally died and was removed.

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with tree 2011
FH 2013 straight
without tree, 2013

But the biggest problem has been the flooding, which thanks to development upriver, has seen the houses inundated by three 100-year floods in the last 18 years. So, we at the National Trust assembled the best minds in the business in terms of architecture and engineering, to come up with a plan to help protect the house from flooding. My initial response, seen in my blog last November, was: it’s a submarine. Mies designed it for a floodplain. Let it flood and keep fixing it. As Mies’ grandson Dirk Lohan, who restored the house after the most disastrous flood in 1996, said, the house makes no sense if it is in a location that doesn’t flood.

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It was Lohan who suggested what has now become the preferred alternative: To create a system of hydraulic jacks that would raise the house out of harm’s way with the onset of Fox River flooding. In short, to turn it into a lowrider.

FH 2013 frontal
where do I put the speakers? and how do I pop the clutch?

Another option was to move it to higher ground. The biggest problem with this option is that higher ground is pretty far away and thus you lose the context which caused you to save it in the first place. You get back to the Dirk Lohan problem: the building makes no sense if it is located in a place that doesn’t flood. That’s why it is sitting on stilts.
FH 2013 best
c’mere gorgeous

The other option, which some preservationists prefer, is to raise the ground it is sitting on, so it is closer to the river but 7 feet higher. This is actually just as expensive as the other options, if not more so, and arguably changes the context much more. Plus, you get the classic problem involved in all restoration decisions: what are the logistics of doing it? Preliminary investigations show that that much landfill isn’t even available, and the slope down to the river would alter the view from inside, which is kind of the whole point.
FH 2013 lvg room
i want a doctor to take your picture

All three options pretty much involve some disassembling and moving of the building. The submarine option is the only one that doesn’t, and given that floods will only get worse given all the factors causing them, constant restoration could easily cost more over the long run. So I was persuaded that Lohan’s plan, which has now been studied by Bob Silman, who is the best, is the preferred option. I gave up on the submarine.
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but I will never give up on my love…

If we have to pull it apart and reassemble to some degree, it should be on the same spot and ideally in the same context. The hydraulic option offers this, although as always the devil will be in the details, such as do you leave the terrace under water or raise it too? If so, how do you deal with the point where the house joins the terrace?
FH 2013 travertn
how do I love thee? let me count the welds…

Another option discussed has been a bladder system that would use the power of the flooding water to raise the house, kind of like the giant styrofoam tubes that keep boat docks floating. Again, the excavation requires temporarily relocating the house, but there is another problem – a bladder system – like a temporary dike that would rise up and surround the house – would be subject to 600 psi of pressure from the floodwaters – not true for the hydraulic jack and truss system.

FH 2013 forest vw

I came into this project a skeptic (as did many others on the panel) and I am now convinced that the best preservation solution that conserves both the architecture and the site that the architecture was designed to feature is the hydraulic jack option. The others seem less secure (bladder/dam) or more damaging to the design (raising/relocating).

FH 1011 views

The decision has already gone through several fora and will go through several more before it is finalized. Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune summarized the options and the Trust approach in an excellent article a few weeks ago. Beyond the decision is of course the very big question of funding what will be a multi-million dollar project. Who knows, the result may prove useful for other architectural icons as the world’s oceans rise…

FH 2013 terrace hosue
i will raise you up. i will protect and cherish you….

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LIDAR in Cambodia

May 2, 2014

Last night we had a lovely Global Heritage Fund event at the Metropolitan Club featuring Dr. Damian Evans of the University of Sydney, who made headlines last year for discovering a new ancient Khmer city at Phnom Kulen northeast of Angkor.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney
GHF photo by Bob Stanton

LIDAR, or more specifically airborne LIDAR, is a laser-scanning technique that manages to provide accurate maps of the surface topography of a place despite layers of vegetation and trees. It allows you to see landforms that may be hidden to the naked eye. Like all good modern technologies, it does what used to be done a whole lot faster. Evans described the past work of a French archaeologist Jacques Gaucher who cut through the vegetation over many years at Angkor Thom to find the surface indications of settlement within the temple complex. LIDAR accomplished the same thing in a few hours, and also demonstrated that the settlement patterns extended well beyond the city walls, a fact Gaucher had not investigated.
AT S ent devas
Entrance to Angkor Thom with deva
The technology is theoretically simple, as we learned in the Q & A. Basically it sends millions of laser points down into the jungle and they bounce back when they hit something. The beauty part is the (very expensive) software that reads the data and then strips away the 95% of it that hit trees and bushes and surface objects and just leaves the layer showing the actual surface.
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All we have left in Angkor and related sites are the stone temples, the homes of the gods. Even the god-kings like Suryavarman II (Angkor Wat) and Jayavarman VII (Bayon) lived in wooden houses along with as many as a million people in what Dr. Evans noted was the LARGEST metropolitan complex in all human history before the Industrial Revolution.
reflect view best
Angkor Wat 2012

LIDAR reveals the remnants of where the lost wooden structures stood, and perhaps more importantly, the hydraulic systems that made this massive conurbation possible. It is the small holding pools next to mounds of settlement detrita that make up the largest part of these scans and the best evidence for the everyday, non-durable society that made those great stone temples.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney
thanks to elephants. GHF image by Bob Stanton

So the technology is more than a new way of doing things because it suggests we study the whole of a society and not just its stone artifacts. My blog two years ago about visiting Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat in a short period of time, revealed how I was struck by the hydrology of both places. More than their architecture, the engineering that made food production and thus population (and thus architecture and art) possible was what struck me in both the Inka and Khmer contexts.
BC bas elephant
elephants are cool, but you need irrigation first

Not only does LIDAR do in hours from the air what used to take months on the ground with a machete, but it suggests new ways of looking at heritage and new ways of understanding it. When my friend and colleague Simon Warrack showed me Damian Evans’ LIDAR scans of Angkor last year in New York I was immediately blown away: I saw intricate, deliberate patterns in places I had been where I had seen NOTHING. LIDAR captures all the lost palimpsests and creates new, robust databases and new areas of inquiry.
BC bas Khmer detS

Dr. Evans concluded by discussing the Global Heritage Fund site at Banteay Chhmar, where we have worked more than six years, restoring an amazing bas-relief wall describing the exploits of Jayavarman VII, a face tower reminiscent of the Bayon, and crafting a plan for the complex while working with the community tourism bureau.
BC wall work fit pcs

I concluded our event last night with a call for action. Last month during a storm, another section of bas-relief wall at Banteay Chhmar collapsed, leaving the stones vulnerable to theft and the wall vulnerable to further collapse. Global Heritage Fund is seeking your support to help restore this wall, so please donate at www.globalheritagefund.org.

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Many thanks to Dr. Damian Evans, Joyce Clark and all GHF members who attended the event! More Bob Stanton photos below of Dr. Evans with me and our lovely host Joyce Clark and myself.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of SydneyMay 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney