Friday, December 24, 2010

Designer of the Month: Frank Lloyd Wright

Week 4: Fallingwater

Fallingwater. Courtesy of wright-house.com.

Prior to Frank Lloyd Wright's design of Taliesin West in 1937, Wright's career was at somewhat of a standstill. He was considered a great architect, but one whose time had come and gone.[1] In 1936, Wright was given the chance to prove this sentiment wrong with several important commissions, including the Kaufmann House (designed in 1935 and built from 1936-1939) in Bear Run, PA, commonly known as Fallingwater. 

Frank Lloyd Wright's design for Fallingwater. Courtesy of Fallingwater.org.

In 1934, Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., the son of a wealthy Pittsburgh department store owner, came to be a part of the Taliesin Fellowship.[2] While visiting their son during this year-long residency, Edgar J. and Liliane S. Kaufmann fell in love with Wright's architectural style as well, and decided to choose Wright to design a new year-round home for them on what had previously been their summer retreat - a tract of land about 60 miles to the south of Pittsburgh, a major feature of which was a stream and waterfall.[3] Although the Kaufmanns had hoped that the waterfall on their property would play a starring role in Wright's design, they never could have imagined the way in which Wright would choose to integrate the building into this landscape; rather than providing the Kaufmanns with a view of their beloved waterfall, Wright instead chose to place the home directly on top of the falls.[4] 

Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. overseeing the construction of Fallingwater. Courtesy of Fallingwater.org.

Constructed from reinforced concrete slabs cantilevered out from the rock, Fallingwater was designed to be fully integrated into its surroundings, with Wright wanting the Kaufmanns to live with the waterfall and the surrounding beauty of nature rather than just look out at it every now and then.[5] By placing the house on top of the waterfall, Wright made sure that the noise of the falls was an ever-present part of the Kaufmanns' lives. Additionally, by means of a suspended staircase, he made the stream directly accessible from the living room of the house.[6] Wright also carried nature inside the home by integrating stonework into the walls and floors, providing almost uninterrupted views of the woods with his many large windows, and creating suspended terraces outside of all the bedrooms, all of which gave the Kaufmanns immediate access to nature, even from inside the home.[7] 

First floor plan for Fallingwater. Courtesy of Fallingwater.org.

While it's true that Fallingwater was a masterful design, Wright was not trained as an engineer, and problems with the home cropped up from the start. Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. was uneasy about having a house suspended in mid-air over a mountain stream, and so consulted an engineering firm about this decision, with the firm advising Kaufmann against this design.[8] Wright was so upset that he demanded work be stopped until he received an apology.[9] Later, another engineering firm suggested extending a wall by several feet to provide more support for one of the cantilevered terraces, which Kaufmann had the builders do.[10] When Wright discovered this, he secretly had the top four inches of the wall removed in order to prove that the terrace could be supported exactly as his design had intended.[11] 

Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. at the dedication of Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Courtesy of Fallingwater.org.

Today, thanks to the efforts of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr. and some major structural repairs, Fallingwater is the only Wright home open to the public where all of its furnishings, artwork and setting remain intact.[12] I've been to a few of Wright's buildings, including the Robie House in Chicago, but nothing compares to a visit to Fallingwater. It's definitely worth driving out of your way to see it. However, if you can't make it all the way out to Bear Run, Fallingwater, in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, has a wonderful website about the home, including online tours, collections information, an interactive timeline, and lots of audio, video and images to browse through. You can visit the website here.
 

[1] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation online, "A Brief Biography," http://www.franklloydwright.org/fllwf_web_091104/Biography.html, (accessed December 22, 2010).

[2] Marie Clayton, "The Usonian House," Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide: His 100 Greatest Works (London: Salamander Books, Ltd., 2002), 222.

[3] Ibid., 222-225.

[4] Fallingwater.org, "Learn: What is Fallingwater?" http://www.fallingwater.org/37/what-is-fallingwater, (accessed December 22, 2010).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Marie Clayton, "The Usonian House," Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide: His 100 Greatest Works (London: Salamander Books, Ltd., 2002), 221.

[7] Ibid., 221-223.

[8] Ibid., 230.

[9] Ibid., 230.

[10] Ibid., 230.

[11] Ibid., 230.

[12] Fallingwater.org, "Learn: Fallingwater Facts," http://www.fallingwater.org/38/, (accessed December 22, 2010).

2 comments:

  1. Marvin McConougheyApril 2, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    Frank Lloyd Wright was indisputably a great architect. Perhaps this accounts for a bit of reticence concerning his engineering lapses on Fallingwater. The engineering challenges at the time it was built do not eclipse those being successfully met on advanced bridge designs of the same era.

    Coupled with his penchant for delegating construction oversight responsibilities, Mr. Wright merits more criticism than he has received for the flaws of Fallingwater.

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  2. He cannot be wrong. . . . hes always wright!

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