Historic Preservation

Posted February 5, 2019
  • Mia Maloney conducts an assessment on the wooden features of the Original Dining Room at Taliesin West in January of 2019. In order to understand the degree of deterioration of the four projecting beams, moisture content readings are recorded and mapped on elevation drawings.

    Photo: Andrew Fearon

Field Notes: Mia Maloney on Taliesin West

Mia Maloney is a second-year student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, and a research assistant at The Center for Architectural Conservation. As part of the PennDesign team that is working with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation on a new study of Taliesin West, the architect’s winter home and school outside Scottsdale, Arizona, she recently returned from her first trip to the National Historic Landmark.

Why were you interested in working at Taliesin West?

Working at Taliesin West meant that I would have a chance to intimately experience one of Wright’s works, a work that he lived in and played an active role in shaping for two decades. I was also excited to work on a modern historic structure and to focus on the conservation of wood, and to have the chance to learn about both more than I have previously had the opportunity to do. 

What aspects of the site were most surprising and why?

The cohesiveness of Taliesin West as a whole, and how every detail came with a sense of intent. Also, the way the site changes throughout the day. During the day, and as the sun set, the natural light coming into the room from the skylight and the view through the clerestory windows dominated my impression of the space. But, at night, the interior of the detailed ceiling woodwork, lit by cove lighting, came to the forefront. 

How did your visit add to your understanding of the project?

The site is complex, both in design and in layers of historical fabric. I found it impossible to fully understand through photographs and archival drawings alone. It took until I was on site to really get a sense of the space. Also, everything appears so cohesive at first. As I was spending time on site, looking at details and examining historic photographs, the development of the structure, and hints of its past forms and designs and how they morphed into what it is today, became more evident. Understanding how the Original Dining Room grew helped me to understand its inner structure, which will be an important aspect when considering how it should be conserved and what interventions may be appropriate. 

What will your thesis explore and accomplish?

A large part of what I have been doing so far has been to understand the present conditions of the wooden elements of the Original Dining Room. This has included visual assessment, as well as diagnostic tools such as probing, UV level and moisture content readings, and IR thermography. Samples were also taken for wood species identification and paint analysis, which will be used to better understand thing such as conditions, chronology, and materials. This and other data, along with guidance from relevant preservation standards such as ICOMOS’s Principals for the Conservation of Wooden Built Heritage, will inform our conservation recommendations for the short and long term.