Guggenheim Receives Face Lift… From the Inside

Event: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Structural Evaluation and Repairs
Location: The Center for Architecture, NYC; 12.16.08
Speakers: Nancy Hudson — Robert Silman Associates
Organizers: Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum during renovation. With the paint removed, the cracks in the concrete are visible.

Jessica Sheridan

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright recently completed an extensive, three-year renovation. Conducted by Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers (RSA), the comprehensive structural assessment focused on the cantilevered ramps supported by radial walls that define the museum’s Main Rotunda. As an expression of reinforced concrete structural elements, restoring the cast-in-place concrete and sprayed gunite was no small feat — especially when attempting to stay true to Wright’s vision.

RSA’s analysis included $20 million-worth of structural analysis, repair, reconfigured mechanical work, and restored glazing and skylights. To preserve the building, the investigation involved laser scanning, non-destructive evaluation, probes, material testing by ICR (a coating evaluation program) and structural monitoring. A “Shell Model System” was constructed from laser scan data to investigate the museum’s as-built conditions. This finite elemental model mathematically examined existing geometry and material properties to analyze the structure under dead and live loads, as well as wind and temperature loads.

Results from the testing revealed deficiencies created by the original construction, such as voids in web walls and cracking. Because it was required that the museum stay open during the entire renovation process, and to stay as true as possible to Wright’s design intention, exterior repairs were limited. Carbon fiber reinforcing, steel brackets, and dampers were installed in the interior walls to allow the building to move more freely while maintaining the exterior’s smooth finish.