Phase One of the 250 Year Project was set in motion by an opportunity that was too good to pass up: to lend the contents of the Eames House living room to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, freeing the Foundation to repair the floor while the contents were displayed (and protected) in a museum environment, see following photo.
If the Foundation had only been able to address the living room floor tiles, we would have felt that the project was a success. However, thanks to the generosity of a number of donors and the careful explorations by Escher GuneWardena Architecture (“EGW”), as well as the research, analysis and guidance of the Getty Conservation Institute (“GCI”), much more was done.
Experts confirmed, that after 60+ years, some materials, such as the floor, had failed. Others simply needed conservation. Still others, such as the flat roof, needed to be modified in order to prevent damage to other elements of the house.
The chipped and loosened floor tiles in the living room were removed. Given that the original flooring, called VAT, contained hazardous materials. and its use is no longer allowed, EGW identified a vinyl composite tile that is relatively close in composition to the original VAT material. The choice of this new material incorporated the Eames Foundation’s requirements that all senses be considered–from look to feel and sound–and that the manufacturer be willing to pour and tweak the material color under the eyes of Eames Foundation representatives.
The removal of the tiles allowed testing to verify an underlying moisture intrusion problem with the concrete slab. An epoxy-type moisture barrier was chosen in the interest of maintaining a controlled interior environment, as well as increasing the longevity of the replacement flooring material. This system is expected to handle the existing vapor pressure pushing through the slab, and is thin enough to avoid misalignment between the new floor and abutting building elements.
The moisture barrier system, glue, tiles and sealers were all Oddy tested under the guidance of the GCI to ensure that they would not cause off-gassing, which would have a detrimental effect on the residence’s collections.
The original under-slab cast-in concrete heating ducts are still in use. Since the original galvanized steel duct lining had deteriorated over the past 60 years, the duct cavities were brushed and vacuum-cleaned at the end of 2011, as was the rest of the heating system.
In the future, moisture barrier coatings could be applied to the corroded ducts that would protect against dust, particulates, and ground humidity from entering the air of the heating and ventilation system, but for various reasons, the current products (though reversible) did not meet the Eames Foundation’s needs, whether being able to pass Oddy tests or to provide acceptable warranties. While we may consider future products, it was determined that the now-clean ducts are acceptable for current use.
The Getty Conservation Institute identified and performed a condition assessment of the tallowwood paneling running the length of the residence and extending into the South Court from the living room. The reconditioning of this tallowwood wall, a critical architectural/design feature, was completed at the end of June, 2012.
The GCI identified the original wood species via a genetic comparison and developed a best practices preservation methodology that serves as an example for the Eames Foundation going forward. The wood has now been conserved, with the original varnish encapsulated and the look refreshed. The protective finish is fully reversible and contains UV protection. In accordance with the Eames Foundation requirement, the original wear and staining of the wood is still evident, as the traces of the Eameses’ occupancy are critical to understanding the history and use of the house.
When examined by structural engineers following several larger earthquakes, the structural system of the house was determined to be in sound condition. In fact, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the engineer said the House did exactly what it should do: flex. While a number of windows popped out, the frame itself was stated to be in better shape than a number of newer structures.
Despite being in very good shape, largely due to on-going maintenance and painting over the years, there were several problem areas. Notably, corrosion had occurred in two locations where the steel frame met the slab, which has since been repaired.
Most of the corrosion and deterioration visible on the steel window system occurred on the lowest row of windows, where moisture collects. Paint accumulation in the operable window units compromised their weather seal. Operable window frames and accompanying mechanical elements were repaired to allow full functionality (requiring repair or replacement of spring systems) as many windows were frozen. Where needed, they were stripped of built-up paint to allow a tighter closing seal.
The operability and stability of the large steel sliding-glass doors was also addressed. With rust and warping repaired, in part through the addition of an unseen, reversible strengthening bar, the sliders can now open smoothly.
In order to prevent moisture and dust from entering the house around the perimeter of the sliders (necessary for the long-term conservation of both structure and contents), a system of (unseen) brushes was designed and installed in the door track. In addition, the Foundation benefited from the original weather seal provided by the elegantly designed copper weather stripping, used since the earliest days on the sliders. It was found to meet the high standards needed for our climate control.
Originally we intended to replace the flat roof with an identically designed one. However, conservation work on the steel structure revealed that water pouring over the roof edge and down all facades of the steel structure was causing damage.
It was clear that we needed to prevent water from running down the facades of the buildings. After a number of iterations, we brought in consultant Veronica Martin of Wiss, Janney, Elstner and evolved the current design. Basically, a perimeter curb, stepped back from the roof edge, corals rainwater and directs it into two new gutters. Other than the visible gutters on the rear service side facing the hill, the structures appear unchanged. The work is fully reversible: the roof surface is slightly raised, and the gutter is laid over the steel frame, not cut into it.
The hard rain and wind in December 2014 tested the viability of the new studio roof design. (The residence work was then in process, needing protection by a mansard roof – a fascinating comparison to its flat roof design.)
Even during the peak of the storm, water was directed as intended: away from the facades and into the gutters. Not only was water prevented from sheeting down the sides from the roof, but the usual flooding behind the house was reduced, minimizing the risk of water permeating the ground behind the retaining wall. The success of the new roof design will assist in the conservation of the steel facades. Our hope is that with steady maintenance, we will avoid the need for an aggressive and costly future intervention. The new design will even enable us to collect water for the landscape and store it in a future cistern, a goal reflective of the Eameses’ green approach to the environment.
With the roof work completed at the end of December 2014, the curtains were reinstalled. This was a signal moment, as the curtains had not been in the House since the contents were removed at the start of Phase 1 in 2011. Their reinstallation will help reduce the negative impact of light on the contents.
The next time we need a completely new roofing system (replaced down to the original Truscon steel decking layer–the layer you see as the structures’ ceiling), we will be able to continue to follow the Eameses’ approach: to explore the use of new materials as we apply the iterative process to create the best solution possible for meeting our many needs.