Built in 1769, the Menokin residence has had a long and rich history. Originally constructed as the house of Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lightfoot Lee, the site was later named a National Historic Landmark. Over the years, however, the building has been slowly and gradually making its way to complete and utter ruin. What exists now is only a crumbling, ramshackle structure, almost like a ghost of its former glory. In an attempt to preserve as much of the brick-and-stone house as possible, the Menokin Foundation, in collaboration with Boston-based Machado and Silvetti Associates, has undertaken the herculean task of restoring the missing sections, of the structure, with a glass shell.
Situated in Warsaw, Virginia, the house is part of an enormous 500-acre estate, that was gifted to Lee and his wife, Rebecca Tayloe, as a wedding present. It later became a National Historic Landmark, in 1971. Today, the site forms a significant portion of the Rappahanock River Valley Wildlife Refuge, and is also known to be a major habitat for bald eagles. However, age has had a profound impact on the structural strength and stability of the building.
Already in 1994, when the Menokin Foundation first came upon the property, much of the main structure had collapsed, with weeds and small plants growing from every nook and corner. Consequently, in 2000, the Foundation constructed a protective shed over the ruins, to prevent further degradation as a result of the prevalent weather conditions. Amazingly enough, almost 80-percent of the original materials used to built Menokin, including the extensive interior woodwork, have survived.
With intention of preserving as much of the main building as possible, Charles Phillips, an architect employed by the Foundation, suggested the use of structural glass. Instead of a thorough overhaul, the restoration project will include the construction of a strengthened glass shell to replace the missing and damaged walls. The glass will, therefore, represent the harmonious fusion of the old and the new, while at the same time, providing greater stability and strength to the basic structure. Talking about this uniquely innovative project, Sarah Dillard Pope, the executive director of Menokin Foundation, said:
Glass is a perfect solution for our philosophy… we want Menokin the ruins, and what remains of it, to speak for itself. We got some raised eyebrows, believe me, but we came to [the] consensus that this was an approach worth pursuing… We are a small organization with a very big vision. But through careful planning and working with stellar partners over the last 20 years, we have a feasible and fundable project that we hope will help redefine the historic house museum model.
The architectural firm, Machado and Silvetti Associates, is currently working towards developing the designs for Phase I of the project. The glass exterior will be constructed such that it seamlessly envelopes the original building. A incredible modern architectural feat, the restoration project showcases the beautiful marriage of Menokin’s glorious past and its equally spectacular future.
To learn more about the project, check Menokin Foundation’s official website.