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Preserving the works of Frank Lloyd Wright

Silman is well known in the preservation world for the skillful engineering employed to save Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. The 1936 home juts boldly out over a waterfall in the Pennsylvania mountains, but by the mid-1990s the structure’s cantilevered concrete terraces had deflected and the house’s future was imperiled. After erecting temporary steel shoring, Silman’s engineers designed major repairs to the cantilevers using external post-tensioning, deliberately raising the sagging portion of the house by a mere fraction of an inch to prevent future deflection without damaging other areas of the building.

Fallingwater is far from the only Frank Lloyd Wright structure that Silman has had the opportunity to work on. Following this project, Silman collaborated with the same preservation architect at the Guggenheim Museum, where the firm’s engineers performed a structural conditions assessment and worked on the subsequent exterior restoration that utilized carbon-fiber reinforcement to correct structural deficiencies without compromising the facade’s exterior appearance.

In the Northeast, Silman’s portfolio also includes Beth Sholom Synagogue, the lone synagogue designed by Wright; the Darwin Martin House, considered one of the most refined Prairie-style residences on the East Coast; and the Graycliff Estate, one of the most elaborate summer estates Wright ever designed. In the Midwest, Silman has worked at locations including the Glasner House, the S.C. Johnson Research Tower, Taliesin, and Wingspread.

Darwin Martin House
Darwin Martin House

Location: Buffalo, NY | Built: 1903-05

Silman conducted an exterior envelope restoration that included re-pointing the exterior masonry, repairing the cantilevered roof’s deflected edges, re-installing the original slate roof, underpinning the shallow foundations, and restoring the exterior concrete features. Silman also participated in the interior restoration of the building and the recreation of long-lost features such as the pergola and conservatory.

Graycliff Estate
Graycliff Estate

Location: Derby, NY | Built: 1926

The firm’s most recent work at this landmarked lakeside estate was the (currently unbuilt) design of a new pedestrian bridge and stair tower to replace the originals with structures better suited for challenges created by cliff erosion. Previously, Silman also assisted with the interior restoration of the main house and adjoining structures.

S.C. Johnson Wax Headquarters
S.C. Johnson Research Tower

Location: Racine, WI | Built: 1950

After two of the Kasota stone ribbons on this 15-story office building’s facade were partially dislodged during storms, Silman used methods including non-destructive testing to evaluate the structure’s mullion-to-structure interface and connection mechanisms. Silman also completed an analysis of the tower to confirm the overall structural performance of the building as related to the facade repairs.


Location: Spring Green, WI | Built: 1950

In 1998, a thunderstorm caused a 200-year oak tree to fall onto an area of the house and studio. Silman subsequently completed the required assessment, analysis, and design of repairs of a complicated roof framing area that contained at least two historic overlays on top of the original structure.


Location: Racine, WI | Built: 1939

In response to the owner’s request to preserve the original historic fabric, Silman developed an innovative method for structural reinforcement of the house’s roof: a fiber-reinforced composite membrane constructed on top of existing sheathing to act as a diaphragm. Work included 3D modeling, laboratory testing of potential reinforcement materials, and field trial mockups.

Image credits: Darwin Martin House: Tim Engleman / Graycliff Estate: Jeff Hart / S.C. Johnson Research Tower: Paul Sableman / Taliesin: Kent Wang / Wingspread: seligmanwaite

All images licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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