Restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright Residence



“Restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright Residence”


In the 1950’s, the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright developed a building system

using concrete block components that can be assembled into a home, which he described

as “Usonian Automatic.” He envisioned the system as being used by the “common man”

to economically construct their own homes. Mr. Wright designed eight residences using

this system and seven were built. In 1955, Mr. Wright designed a Usonian Automatic

home for Dr. Toufic Kalil and his wife, who built their home in Manchester, New

Hampshire with the assistance of a local contractor.

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (WJE) was selected by the heirs of the Toufic

Kalil House to assess the existing conditions in preparation to sell the home. We

provided advice and to implement repairs to portions of the concrete walls, windows,

site wall and roofing. After our initial meeting, a landscape contractor demolished a site

wall with his truck.

Based on our observations of existing conditions and research of historic documents,

WJE developed repair documents to replicate the severely damaged site wall. We also

developed roofing repair and replacement documents to replace the leaking roofing

system installed in 2003. Historic documents from the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives

housed at the Avery Library of Columbia University supplemented the personal papers

maintained by the Kalil Family.

While much is written about Frank Lloyd Wright, his life and his designs, very little

detailed information has been written about the Usonian Automatic building system,

component configuration and its unique assembly. We learned the component design

from the historic drawings of molds and experienced the construction challenges from

3casting the new blocks and then assembling these components into the rebuilt sitewall.

The records also indicate that the Dr. Kalil was frustrated by a leaky roof over the first

two winters in the home. The personal records from the Kalil family revealed names of

products used for the original roofing system which differed from those in the project

specifications. This also included repair materials. Little information was found about

these products. The challenges of the existing conditions of the concrete roof deck and

low flashing heights demanded creative approaches to the roofing replacement

material and assembly.


Learning Objective 1

Explain the concept of the Usonian Automatic components and their assembly.


Learning Objective 2

Explain the challenges of constructing the components into a wall.


Learning Objective 3

Describe the roofing and flashing assembly used to address the deck and flashing

condition challenges.


Learning Objective 4

Understand how the component approach to design created design challenges to create a

watertight roofing assembly.


1 learning credit




William Waterston is a recently retired Associate Principal at Wiss, Janney, Elstner

Associates, Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts. He continues to work as an affiliated

consultant. He is both a registered architect and a registered roof consultant focused on

solving waterproofing and roofing challenges in new and existing buildings. Mr. Waterston

is the author of several articles on roofing material choices and roofing practices. He has

presented at various venues including IIBEC, and Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)

meetings, conventions and symposia. Mr. Waterston is an Emeritus Member of IIBEC, AIA

and CSI.


May 13 2021


3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
September 2023