3-D Printing Used in Restoration of Annie Pfeiffer Chapel

Aug 20, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor
For the first time, 3-D printing technology is being utilized to preserve the unique buildings of iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

A $50,000 grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources and a $350,000 grant provided by the Save America’s Treasurers Program of the National Park Service helped fund an ongoing project to restore the signature Wright-designed textile blocks in the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel at Florida Southern College. The project resulted in an innovative use of 3-D printers to assist in creating molds for the blocks Wright used to build the chapel. The process replaces the painstakingly hand-crafted molds previously used to make the blocks, significantly reducing the cost.

The restoration effort eventually will replace most of the textile blocks on the west wall of the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, completed in 1941 as the first of 12 structures built during Wright’s lifetime. Most of the blocks on this wall are showing the effects of weather and time.

The twelve-month grant from the Division of Historical Resources concluded on July 31 and was supplemented by the five-year Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service, which concluded on June 30. Both grants were matched by the College.

Together, the grants were used to analyze the deterioration of the textile blocks and create new molds for their replacement. The molds historically have been constructed by hand, an expensive process, and the molds for west wall blocks are the most difficult to produce of all the blocks on campus due to their complexity, according to restoration architect Jeff Baker of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects of Albany, N.Y., who is overseeing the project. The new molds were produced at Baker’s workshop from 3-D printed elements and handmade parts.

“The success found on this project is a milestone not only in the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the FSC campus but also for similar textile block projects designed by Wright and other architects throughout the nation,” Baker said.

True to Wright’s original design, about 2,000 distinctive colored glass tiles were created and inserted into the manufactured blocks as part of the grant.

“The Division of Historical Resources and the National Parks Service have rendered an invaluable service by helping Florida Southern preserve the vision of America’s greatest architect,” said FSC President Anne Kerr. “These generous grants will make it possible for us to move forward with the full restoration of the beautiful Annie Pfeiffer Chapel.”

Florida Southern College is home to the largest collection of Wright-designed structures in the world, and the Wright campus was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. Last year, as part of the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center, the College completed a Usonian house based on a Wright design for the campus from the 1930s.