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Art Through Time: A Global View

Domestic Life Art: Fallingwater (exterior)

» Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867–1959)

Fallingwater (exterior)

Fallingwater (exterior)
Artist / Origin: Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867–1959)
Region: North America
Date: 1936–38
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Concrete, steel, stone, and glass
Medium: Architecture and Planning
Dimensions: 5,330 sq. ft. (1,625 sq. m.)
Location: Bear Run, PA
Credit: ©Robert P. Ruschak, Courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The Kauffmans—Edgar, Liliane, and their son Edgar, Jr.—lived in Pittsburgh, where they owned a department store, but they regularly retreated to the nearby mountains to get away from the industrial pollution of the city.

In the mid-1930s, they decided to build a vacation house along a mountain stream called Bear Run, and hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design it.

By the thirties, Wright had already gained prominence as an architect, in particular, for his design of houses. The long, low Prairie style for which he was best known was exemplified in his design for the Robie House in Chicago (completed 1910), which revolutionized American domestic architecture. Wright was inspired by the complete integration of form and function in nature. He was adamant that style should not be imposed. He believed that the aesthetics of a structure should be organically connected to the site and properties of its building materials.

At Fallingwater, Wright achieved the marriage of form and function, as well as the union of site and structure. The wide, flat, cantilevered terraces made of reinforced concrete echo the rocks in the natural landscape and appear to float above the water below. Wright asserted that he wanted the Kauffmans to live with the environment at Bear Run, for it to be apart of their everyday lives. There is almost as much living space on the outdoor terraces as there is inside the house. Rather than situating the structure with a view of the thirty-foot waterfall, Wright built it directly above the waterfall.

Expert Perspective:
Lynda S. Waggoner, Vice President of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy/Director of Fallingwater

“Fallingwater—it’s so hard to talk about what it does to people and how perfect it is. It’s both an intellectual experience and a visceral experience. It sort of hits you in the gut. I think Fallingwater was unprecedented. There has never been a house—a country house for a wealthy patron in the woods—that suggested anything like what Fallingwater is or does to people.

Fallingwater was commissioned by the Edgar Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh. It’s the perfect coming together of Wright’s needs, the Kaufmann’s needs. Wright wrote to Kaufmann and said he was designing a house to the music of the stream for Mr. Kaufmann. And I think that’s exactly what he achieved there. It is a house that is so harmonious with the site around it. There is something in human beings that want to reconnect with nature and that house is that bridge that allows it to happen. It’s in some ways arrogant to imagine that you could take on a waterfall. But Wright did. He made it more complete, more beautiful. It’s sort of the joining of nature and man, man’s genius together.

Like any great masterpiece, it never bores you. I constantly find new relationships, new things happening in the house. It so reflects what goes on in nature. Themes are reiterated throughout the building. There is a continuity of materials, surfaces, color, throughout the house. That whole progression on the site—of coming down the path crossing the bridge, going into the house, experiencing the spaces from the inside, having these vantage points looking out, getting a glimpse of the waterfall, a piece of it, from an odd view over it, a piece of the stream—all of that experience comes together at the very end when one leaves the house and walks down the path to the view of the house over the waterfall. That’s the climax of the whole experience.

I heard someone once refer to Fallingwater as Frank Lloyd Wright singing. And I think that’s what it is. It’s a joyful experience just to be in the house, to be reconnected with the landscape. And I think that’s what it does and that’s why is speaks to us in such a profound way.”

Additional Resources

Blake, Peter. The Master Builders: LeCorbusier/Mies van der Rohe/Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: W.W. Norton, 1960/1996.

Fallingwater Web site.

Hess, Alan, Alan Weintraub, Kenneth Frampton, and Thomas S. Hines. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses. New York: Rizzoli, 2005.

Hoffmann, Donald. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: The House and Its History, 2nd rev. ed. New York: Dover Publications, 1993.

Kaufmann, Edgar, Jr. Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House. New York: Abbeville, 1986.

Stoller, Ezra. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.

Toker, Franklin. Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America’s Most Extraordinary House. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Waggoner, Lynda S. Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Romance with Nature.New York: Universe, 1996.

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