Watch The Rebirth Of A Crumbling Frank Lloyd Wright Model

The 90-year-old model arrived at MoMA covered in grime. Here’s how a conservator brought it back to life.

One often-overlooked byproduct of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s prolific career is a series of beautiful models of his works. But they’re not always well-preserved.


One such model is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s of St. Mark’s Tower, which would have been the first glass skyscraper in Manhattan if it had been built–but Frank Lloyd Wright’s client decided not to move forward with the project because they believed it would scare people and give them vertigo, as MoMA explains.

While the building of St. Mark’s Tower was never built, Wright still used the detailed scale model in international exhibitions of his work; it traveled all over the world and was covered with grime and falling apart when it arrived at MoMA.

Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867–1959). Model of St. Mark’s Tower. Unbuilt project. New York, New York. 1927-31. Painted wood. 53 x 16 x 16″. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). [Image: © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. All rights reserved]
In a new video of the restoration process in anticipation of the museum’s new exhibition on the architect’s work, the conservator Ellen Moody explains how she carefully vacuumed off the dust and dirt, went over every surface with a tiny damp sponge, and then set about restoring most of it with small painted pieces of cardstock and Japanese paper made of mulberry fibers.

Crucially, Moody decided to leave one corner unrestored so viewers could see the model’s original state–an attempt to balance the preservation of the model with Wright’s own vision. And, she notes, the restoration is entirely reversible in case future generations of curators and restoration experts “have a different interpretation of this model.”

The model will be on display at MoMA until October 1.


About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable