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
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