PPG Does It Wright

By Christine Esposito | August 10, 2005

PPG is playing a major role in the $11.5 million restoration effort under way at Frank Lloyd Wright�s Fallingwater.

Harmony with nature is the underlying theme for Fallingwater, one of the best known and most loved residences created by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright's dream: create a special structure that not only straddled a waterfall, but appeared to sprout from the hilly, leafy, rocky terrain where it was to be built. The project was commissioned in the 1930s by Edgar Kaufman Sr., a Pittsburgh retail mogul.

But what makes Fallingwater so unique is also what plagues this famed residence, including its paint and coatings. The house's breathtaking design features cantilevered decks, curved concrete structures and flat roofs and terraces. Add to that its proximity to (and contact with) running water and moisture from the waterfall and surrounding hillside, and it's easy to see why paint is put to the test at Fallingwater. Luckily for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), the group charged with Fallingwater's preservation, when it came to paint and coatings expertise, there was a perfect partner in Pittsburgh, just 70 miles away.

PPG is playing a major role in an $11.5 million restoration effort that has been ongoing at Fallingwater since 1996. Experts from PPG's Pittsburgh Paint unit, its high performance coatings group and its coatings and resins R&D center in Springdale, PA are involved in the project.

The Fallingwater residence. (Used with permission of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.)

At the heart of the paint renovation work at Fallingwater has been Pittsburgh Paint's Pure Performance, its new low-odor, zero-VOC premium latex paint. Company officials were on hand at a special event held at Fallingwater on May 20, in which architects, designers and specifiers were the first to see the new collection of colors inspired by the residence and progress in the restoration project.

PPG architectural finish executives, including Richard A. Beuke, president, and William G. Boberski, director of technology, as well as staffers ranging from marketing to formulation to tech support were on hand at Fallingwater to address questions about PPG's decorative and high performance coatings. Falling-water staff and the WPC were also in attendance to provide insight into just how difficult upkeep of the residence has been.

"We had trouble keeping paint on the house; it is a very damp environment. The less we have to repaint it the better," said Alex Speyer III, chairman of the Fallingwater Advisory Committee. "We have the complete technical might of PPG behind us, so when we put paint on it, it will remain on."

According to Lynda Waggoner, vice president and director of Fallingwater, one of the first coatings used on Fallingwater was cement casein-based paint, which dirtied very quickly. (WPC found an original can of the dry paint used on the structure). Ms. Waggoner addressed difficult conditions for paint at Fallingwater, such as horizontal surfaces. "We are working with PPG to try to address these problems," she said.

Working with Fallingwater maintenance staff and architectural engineers is key to finding the right coatings and waterproofing solutions for the dwelling, according to Mr. Beuke, who commented on the special position Pure Performance has in the project. Pure Performance, he said, is in "keeping with Fallingwater's requirements and vision" of having a "profound respect for nature and the least impact on the environment."


Pure Performance-the first premium paint to earn Green Seal Class A certification-contains antimicrobials that resist mold and mildew growth, a critical issue at Fallingwater.

A New Collection
Since Fallingwater has been open to the public, WPC has fielded many calls from the 130,000-plus yearly visitors, many of whom wanted to paint their homes the same colors.
Those homeowners-as well as Wright-inspired designers and architects-now have that option. PPG has created Fallingwater Inspired Colors within the Voice of Color collection. The 13 shades, which have been authenticated by WPC, come from fabrics, walls and furniture inside the residence and from the surrounding landscape. The range includes Cherokee red one of Fallingwater's most recognizable colors, which is used on metal and ironwork.

Being involved in the Fallingwater restoration effort is also proving beneficial to PPG's R&D efforts. The project has given PPG a unique opportunity to study special challenges, including waterproofing Fallingwater's cantilevered decks, which are not only outdoor terraces, but also serve as the ceiling for interior sections of the home.

PPG's coatings and resins research and development staff, as well its high performance coatings groups are testing PPG products on various surfaces at Fallingwater. Among the products currently being studied are Pitt-Flex, an acrylic elastomeric coating, and PPG's Perm Sealer Vapor Barrier, a low moisture transmission primer product that will prevent moisture from the cantilevered decks from migrating into the interior of the home's concrete ceilings.

Caution: Wet Paint
Currently, the walls and ceilings of the former servant's quarters-now the Fallingwater staff offices-have been painted with PPG's Speedhide primer and Pure Performance paint. During the main painting work in the residence, staffers will remain at work thanks to Pure Performance's zero-VOC, low-odor formulation-an important issue for WPC.

"Low VOC is very important to our environment," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO, WPC. "It is very important to us to work with a company that understands that. We're pleased to have PPG as a partner."

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