The History of Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater

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By WalterThornton

What is Fallingwater?

Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic home Fallingwater (1939), was designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Located in Mill Run–a Springfield Township community in southwestern Pennsylvania–Fallingwater was built in the organic architecture style. This style emphasizes harmony between nature and building. In 1966, the house was declared a United States National Historic Landmark.

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What is Organic Architecture?

Organic architecture refers to a style where buildings are inspired and built around their natural surroundings. Frank Lloyd Wright invented the term “organic Architecture”, a type of design that does not infringe upon nature, but rather coexists with it. It creates a composition that celebrates the natural world and is in conversation.

Fallingwater is often referred to by architectural historians as Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece and an emblem of organic architecture, which Wright championed. Fallingwater, which is built on top of a waterfall, blends into its surroundings and uses materials that reflect the natural beauty of southwestern Pennsylvania.

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A Brief History of Fallingwater

Fallingwater was built during Frank Lloyd Wright’s final years. He was already in his sixties when construction started in 1936. This cemented Wright’s status as one the United States’ most renowned architects.

Commission: This job was commissioned Liliane Kaufmann, and Edgar J. Kaufmann, the owners of Kaufmann’s Department Store in Pennsylvania. The Kaufmann family was looking for a weekend home near Pittsburgh, where the flagship department store is located. Edgar Kaufmann Jr., the family’s young architect son, was trained at the Taliesin Fellowship in Wisconsin. The Kaufmanns were able to meet Wright and hire him for the job.

Inspiration: Wright visited Bear Run in 1934, which is a tributary to the Youghiogheny River. Wright was inspired by a waterfall in the river and requested a survey of its surroundings.

Features: The Kaufmanns weekend retreat would feature a large living area, multiple bedrooms, and an open-plan, welcoming first floor. Wright used local stone from the nearby quarry to build the walls of the house. He also used T beams upside-down to support the cantilevered floors and found boulders around the construction site for his fireplace.

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Friction: Although the Kaufmanns wanted the house to be built beneath the cascade, Wright built it above. The Kaufmanns wanted the house built below the cascade, but Wright designed it above it. This led to conflict between the Kaufmanns and Wright. Wright’s bold, cantilevered design plans were questioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann, who hired an outside engineer consultant. This added tension to the situation and almost led Wright to leave the project.

Construction was completed in 1936. The main house was built in 1938. The guest house was completed the year after that. The total cost of the project included finishings and furnishings.

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. In 1963, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., after decades spent in the family home and the hosting of artists and celebrities, donated the home to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The museum opened with guided architectural tours.

Influence: The American Institute of Architects ranked the house as the “best American architecture of all time” in 1991, in recognition of Fallingwater’s architectural achievements.

Restoration: In 2001, the house was renovated for $11.5 million. In 2019, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Four Important Characteristics of Fallingwater

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House is located in the picturesque Laurel Highlands. It has several distinctive architectural features.

  1. Waterfall: A visit to Fallingwater would not be complete without visiting the waterfall, which is part of Bear Run. The waterfall is located on the top of the house, and its running water can be heard throughout, especially when the snow melts.
  2. Horizontal and Vertical Lines: Fallingwater is a fixture that has straight, perpendicular lines. The vertical lines reflect the ascending trees that grow around the home. The horizontal lines can be seen in the cantilevers that reach outwards from the home and into the natural world.
  3. Waxed stone floors: Wright used locally sourced materials to wax the stone that would be the floor. The stone floors were contrasted by the rougher use of boulders found in the hearth. However, each floor nods to the materials just beyond the walls.
  4. Fallingwater bedrooms are small: They are practical and not extravagant. Because the bedrooms are smaller and their ceilings are lower, residents and guests were encouraged to explore larger areas such as the outdoors and indoors.