Fallingwater was more than a house for both the Kaufmann family and for its designer Frank Lloyd Wright. For the Kaufmanns, owners of Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh, the home was a way to unwind from their hectic life. The Kaufmanns were committed to living in harmony with nature, and wanted a house that reflected that. In a letter to Wright, Edgar Kaufmann Jr said:
"Will you build a place of prayer at Bear Run? All three of us would like a focus of attention for the spiritual reality which we know underlies life and work and the joys we share here. Nature is the great restorer, concentrated here to balance our city living. The dignity and beauty of your architecture gives us a way of life in and with nature, beyond our best dreams. Mother brings a choice of flowers and foods and comforts, Father brings broad scope of action and activities, and I some ideas and music; all this combines into a rich life for which we are grateful and humbly so."

Wright had a concept of "organic architecture", where harmony between man and nature could be captured and expressed through buildings. His goal was to integrate a design so fully with the surrounding area that the structure and nature would become one. He was in his mid 60s when he was given the commission to build Fallingwater, and was viewed by the architectural community as being out of touch with the times. His unique perspective on architecture and the equally unique desires of the Kaufmann family created a masterpiece.

Wright also designed much of the furnishings for the home. He created 169 pieces of walnut furniture, designed specifically to fit into Fallingwater. The rest of the house is furnished eclectically, with art and treasures collected from the family's travels.

Fallingwater is open to the public today. Edgar Kaufmann Jr. gave the house to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancyin 1963, and it is the only major Wright creation available to the public. The original furnishings, art, and books are still in the house.

Fallingwater is arguably Wright's best attempt to unite nature, architecture, and human life into a structure.

On a personal and kind of strange note; I dreamed of Fallingwater before I knew of its existence. I told my then boss about this strange building that I'd dreamed of in such detail, and he immediately got out a book showing pictures of Frank Lloyd Wrights designs. The house he showed me, while not exactly that of my dream, was so close that i got goose bumps. This is the only time I've ever experienced this kind of event. It sure piqued my interest in Wright and Fallingwater.

Fallingwater (The Edgar J. Kaufmann House) is the world's most famous private residence, and was pivotal in putting the 68 year-old, flamboyant architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, back into the limelight.

Commissioned in 1935 by the Pittsburgh department store owner, Edgar J. Kaufmann whose son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. was working as an apprentice for Wright in the Talesin Fellowship. Fallingwater would be built on the spot that the Kaufmann's first visited in 1913 when they leased the 1,635 acre site along the Bear Run watershed as an employee retreat. In 1921 a cabin was built where the guesthouse now stands, and in 1933 became under the ownership of the Kaufmanns.

The elder Kaufmann came to Wright in October 1934 to discuss a new building to replace the aging cabin that lacked plumbing, heating, and electricity. Upon his first visit to the Bear Run site in March of 1935 he order a detailed site survey done. Then did nothing for 6 months.

On a Sunday in September, Wright received a call from Kaufmann, and uttered his famous words, "Come along E.J. we're ready for you." The fact of the matter was that nothing was drawn! Wright had honestly done no physical work on Fallingwater in that 6 month period, it was all done mentally, and so he calmly sat down despite the panic of his apprentices and in the 2 hours it took Kaufmann to drive to Talesin from Milwaukee drew rough, but detailed drawings of what would become Fallingwater. Kaufmann came, and approved of the drawings, although he didn't expect Wright to build the home right over the waterfall.

Construction on Fallingwater began in April 1936 and on August 19th when the 1st floor slab was being created, the most serious blunder during the construction occured. At Kaufmann's request, Fallingwater's engineers and contractors had added twice as much steel upsetting the detailed designs that Wright had made. Even more damaging, was the lack of attempts to balance the extra steel. Although much of the damage caused by the steel was later corrected, the drooping lines in the main cantilever and cracks in the concrete are the still visible aftermath of it. In 1939 a guesthouse was added complete with a diving pool.

Fallingwater, like all of (Except his very early works) Wright's buildings, Fallingwater blends in with its surroundings. A rock quarry was created near by to excavate rock from the river bed to create the building's main slabs, as so to blend in with the surrounding rock. Many of the concrete cantilevers seem as if they were part of the earth. The floor was done in such a way that it gleams as if it were flowing water. The hearth in the living room was built over the still visible rock where the Kaufmann family loved to have picnics. The main cantilever seems to give the feeling that Fallingwater is floating over the cascades. There is even a stairway down to the stream separated from the inside by a large glass lock. Even though it may not be Wright's masterpiece in his own opinion, it is one of his best works and put him back in the architectural spotlight, even having a Time cover dedicated to him and Fallingwater.

In October 1969 Edgar Kaufmann Jr. gave the property to the Western Pennsylvnia Conservancy for the public to enjoy and today it recieves more than 70,000 visitors annually.


McCarter, Robert. Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater isn't what it once was: Go see it while you have a chance.

In recent years, the cantilever balconies are falling over. Wright had a wonderful idea about the ratio of supported to unsupported balcony as 3:1. His idea, even though he was told it would never stand, stood until the late 1990s without additional support. The concrete of the balconies was starting to crumble and transfer load to other parts of the building. A study by an engineering firm indicated that the master terrace could not function as an independent cantilever, and that it was transferring its load to the living room level. The living room cantilevers were predicted to fail if there were no supports provided. In 1997, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy started to undertake steps to stop the movement of load by installing temporaty shoring. In 1999, a plan was drawn up to reinforce the living room terrace via post-tensioning. Waterproofing the building will also be done.

I was last at Fallingwater in 1995, before they started all of the major projects. I am happy to say that the pool has been painted.

If you should make it out to Fallingwater keep the following in mind:

  • It was built for someone who is 5 feet 10 inches tall, so the steps don't seem right.
  • The nature conservancy that runs it has put in additional outbuildings showing the benefits of conservation. One of the features are 'natural toilets'. These toilets are connected to the ground below you via clear pipes. The things that you leave are then combined with leaves and are somehow mulched, and thus the buildings don't need to be hooked up to sewer pipes.

Information provided by:www.paconserve.org/

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