Thursday, July 26, 2007


Our mini holiday to Fallingwater was absolutely amazing. Dare I even say that it was a spiritual experience?

I think I may.

I've been a fan of America's most famous architect for over a decade, though had never seen one of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings in person until this weekend. Chasing his architecture on the internet and in books for ten years in no way prepared me for experiencing his most famous and unequaled home. It was magical and surreal. So magical and surreal, in fact, that less than 24 hours after touring it the first time, I had to go back.

Fallingwater was built for E. J. and Liliane Kaufmann and their son Edgar, Jr. on their land in Bear Run as a weekend home. The story is that E. J. requested that their "county cabin" be built in such a way that it took advantage of the view of the waterfall on their property. No doubt, the family was a bit surprised upon seeing Wright's plans to build the home over the falls.

Construction began on the main house in 1937 and ended with the guest house in 1939. The original budget for the project was $40,000; the final cost was $150,000.

Throughout the home, you can hear the rushing of the the falls and stream. This is thanks in part to the many windows and doors, but mostly to the "hatch" Wright built in the great room. The hatch provides a sound-scape, air conditioning and a staircase to the stream, into a swimming area.

"Organic" does not even begin to describe the way in which this home was built. Because of it's cantilevered structure, views of the outside are fully exploited with rows of glass wrapping around corners so as not to disrupt the flow. Keep in mind that this was during 1937, before silicone; these glass panes are cut to join one another and to meet walls. In several cases, corners were simply eliminated. Wright called this effect "exploding the box."

The home is built on several boulders that are visible from both the outside and the inside of the house. Most poetically, the hearth of the fireplace on the main floor is part of a large rock that previously had been one of the family's favorite sunning spots. Outside, the boulder is in its natural state, growing moss and other vegetation, all at once while supporting the terrace off of E. J.'s bedroom and providing a cozy wall for the walkway between the main house and the guest house.

At Fallingwater, outside becomes in and inside becomes out, and there is almost equal square footage dedicated to the outside terraces, as there is to the indoor floor plan. In addition to the use of glass and utilization of the site's boulders, window ledges and floors are seamlessly transitioned between windows and doors. In the hallway that connects the home to a walkway to the guest house, there is a corner built around a boulder that, when it's wet enough, will run with water from a spring.

We were at first disappointed that our visit was during a rainy couple of days, but one of the owners of County Seasons Bed and Breakfast (where we stayed) was actually excited for us. He said that the rain and wet grounds would make for a better tour and was actually his preferred setting of Fallingwater. Once there, we had to agree. The water made an appearance in the spring inside, we were able to see the drainage spouts in action (simple holes and small chutes from the terrace floors into the creek below) and outside, the rock walls were just dripping and pooling with water running down the mountainside.

Fallingwater, entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, is essentially part of the 5,000-acre Bear Run Nature Reserve, and so everywhere we looked, we were taken by the home itself, as well as the natural beauty of its landscape. Of course, that was Frank Lloyd Wright's intention: that visitors would be forced to see, acknowledge and appreciate the amazing landscape. He built completely in concert not just with the waterfall, but with the entire stream, the trees, rhododendrons, sandstone, shale, limestone, and sun.

And there are gobs and gobs or artwork everywhere. Picaso, Diego Rivera, John J. Audubon and Hiroshige are on the walls, Tiffany lighting is
in every room, chairs by Laszlo Gabor and Bruno Mathsson sit quietly in reading corners, a Jacques Lipchitz statue praises the plunge pool - it's almost overwhelming. There's just too much to see, too much to take in!

Which is why we went back for a second tour. We easily could've stayed for the week. Seriously.

I haven't even mentioned the inside of the house: The beveled ceilings, the lateral shelving, the flagstone floor, the low ceilings, the efficiency of space, compression and release, the simple colors and materials used, how it has the largest collection of Wright furniture.

Or of the era in which the construction took place: Can you imagine what the neighbors thought? A house with glass walls, over a waterfall, with four indoor bathrooms, cantilevered everything and a "great room." The idea of an open floor plan is common to us now, but it certainly wasn't then.

Or of the divine intervention it took to get this home built: Merchant prince E. J. Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright each have a personality that can hardly be imagined and egos to match. At the time of this project, Wright was at on of the lowest points of his career. The fact that this patron came to this architect with this piece of land at this moment is a story in and of itself.

Or the energy of the house: Synchronized, alive, breathing, Cubism, linear, flowing, moving, confusion, realization, mathematical, noisy, calming, serene, and on and on...

Clearly I was moved by my encounter with Fallingwater. Did you get that? ;) Visit the flick'r set for more interior, exterior and grounds photographs.

And can you believe that this was just the beginning of our holiday? Man, that Jase sure is an amazing guy. He put together this whole get away package for my birthday last year. He booked an early morning tour at Fallingwater, a late afternoon visit to Kentuck Knob, two nights at Country Seasons Bed and Breakfast (an easy five-minute drive to Fallingwater which was perfect for that 8:45am tour) and two nights at Angelspring Farm Wellness Retreat where we had massages and hot vegan dinners brought to us in a picnic basket each evening. Not to mention tons of stops in between for meals, wine and sightseeing. I'll write more on those later.

For now, I'm happy to just revisit Fallingwater, the centerpiece and catalyst to the trip.


PS: Yes, of course we had food at Fallingwater, too. They have a cafe that was serving, in addition to other things, a fantastic seasonal summer vegetable soup ;)


Anonymous said...

Dude. The fact that you are so moved by Wright's work really moves *me*. I love when people are *into* shit!

I love you and want to do more research on his other architecture.


Naomi said...

Mmmm. It's been ages since I've been to Fallingwater. Thanks for the lovely reminder.


Faith said...

I got goosebumps while reading this and looking at your pictures. I've always admired Fallingwater. Now I want to see it in person.

Thanks for this post. Really beautiful.

Mikaela said...

Thanks, guys <3