Our sister magazine, Architect, recently published a long-form look at the Getty Conservation Institute's (GCI) Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI), which is working on the preservation of Louis Kahn's Salk Institute. The initiative is also working on the preservation of the Eames house, an excerpt of which is featured here:


One of the essential tenets of Modernism—experimenting with new materials—has created another unexpected challenge, as many newfangled polymers and plastics haven’t aged well. Technologically avant building systems have failed to guard against deteriorating sealants, crumbling foam, or discoloring fiberglass. Moreover, mass-produced and machined components present philosophical questions about authenticity, temporality, and reconstruction. In a position paper presented at the Getty’s 2013 colloquium, GCI project manager Kyle Normandin put it this way: “Are standardized, machined building components understood to have the same significance as traditional carved-stone elements on a building façade, which are the work of a craftsperson?”

The restored tallowwood wall paneling in the Eames House living room
Scott S. Warren The restored tallowwood wall paneling in the Eames House living room

For Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena of the Los Angeles–based practice Escher GuneWardena Architecture, the answer is clearly yes. The project architects for the initial phase of the work on the Eames House Conservation Project, their wide-ranging practice encompasses everything from contemporary art to working on classic houses by L.A. masters like John Lautner and Quincy A. Jones. (The Eames House was the first of CMAI’s field projects; the Salk Institute is its second.)

The firm’s investigations in art informed its work on the 1949 landmark, which Charles and Ray Eames designed for themselves in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Escher GuneWardena approached the conservation of the residence like the restoration of a painting: meticulous in the effort not to erase history. “All of the traces that we discovered in the Eames House during early investigations—the cracks in painted surfaces, mechanical abrasions on the wood, or discolorations or stains in the wood—these to us were something that we felt was absolutely necessary to preserve,” says Escher. “They are part of the building’s history and create a very particular atmosphere. We have always felt—and this began before the Eames House—that if you can tell that a building has been restored, you have gone too far.”

GCI laboratory manager David Carson conducting a heating duct investigation in the Eames House
Susan Macdonald
GCI laboratory manager David Carson conducting a heating duct investigation in the Eames House

Click here to read Mimi Zeiger's full story on Architect's site.