[Interview] Rebecca Buntrock, Preservation Engineer and Building Guardian Angel

Posted on: December 13th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 3 Comments


Rebecca Buntrock observing roof construction at the UVA Jefferson's Rotunda, part of her work as a preservation engineer at Robert Silman Associates.

Usually when people have a big fix-it project on their to-do list, they borrow tools and supplies. At the National Trust, we borrow preservation engineers.

Meet Rebecca Buntrock, our 2012 Robert Silman Fellow for Preservation Engineering. This six-month position is sponsored by Rebecca's employer, Robert Silman Associates (RSA), a firm known nationwide for their special expertise in the engineering of historic buildings, with notable preservation projects including the Guggenheim, Fallingwater, and Ellis Island.

During her tenure at the National Trust, Rebecca worked closely with our Historic Sites department on cool projects at a number of sites, including:

  • Woodlawn, where she evaluated current conditions, reported back on structural feasibility, and got to crawl around in the attic. (See photo below.)
  • Belle Grove and Oatlands, where she figured out what the properties' barns would need to be converted into assembly spaces -- especially helpful given that the National Trust has hundreds of barns across its historic sites which could be reused in interesting ways.
  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where she studied the building to determine its history of repairs and its structural integrity.

Her goal: to make sure buildings are safe and sound for generations of history enthusiasts to come.


Rebecca is checking out a wood truss in the Woodlawn attic to identify ‘soft’ or ‘punky’ wood, which indicates exterior rot.

Before Rebecca wrapped up her stint with us, we stole her away from her various planning and construction projects for a Q&A about what goes into becoming a preservation engineer, how engineering can save places, and why barns are red. Have a listen!

The Robert Silman Fellowship for Preservation Engineering is a competitive placement offered each year. Application information for the 2013 Fellowship will be available on December 15, and the annual application deadline is March 15.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Interviews, Restoration

3 Responses

  1. Sarah Pope

    December 13, 2012

    We loved meeting Rebecca this summer when she visited historic Menokin with Trust staff. Her input on our project was invaluable–thank you National Trust and Rebecca! More on her visit is at: http://menokin.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/women-in-historic-preservation/

  2. [Interview] Rebecca Buntrock, Preservation Engineer and Building Guardian Angel « Menokin: Rubble With A Cause

    December 13, 2012

    [...] [Interview] Rebecca Buntrock, Preservation Engineer and Building Guardian Angel. [...]

  3. Eleanor Lynn

    December 20, 2012

    Rebecca, I enjoyed listening to your interview and I love your picture on top of Thomas Jefferson’s rotunda. I was interested to hear your theory of the reason why barns are red; i.e. the result of ferrous oxide used as preservative. I had always been told by Vermont farmers that the reasons barns were painted red was to keep the animals warm. The early houses constructed of wood were painted white which reflected sun light and the barns were painted red to absorb the sun and keep the animals warm.