Thursday, 3 February 2011

Built Wright: Fallingwater ~ A Frank Lloyd Wright Masterwork

Frank Lloyd Wright
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(1867 -1959)

There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock-ledge rising beside a waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from that rock-bank over the falling water.... I think you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design.

Snug into the natural landscape of Mill Run, Pennsylvania, is one of America's uniquest homes: Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Built for a Pittsburgh department store tycoon, the immensely prosperous Edgar J. Kaufmann, Fallingwater emerges from the surrounding forest greenery and boulders, rising thirty-feet above the cascading waters of the Bear Run waterfalls while simultaneously straddling them.

E. J. Kaufmann Sr. was introduced to Wright by his son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., who had studied as an apprentice with Wright at Taliesin, Wright's home located south of Spring Green, Wisconsin. In 1934, recently returned to the United States from a European trip, Edgar Jr. read, at the suggestion of a friend who was working at an art gallery in New York at the time, Wright's 1932 book, An Autobiography. Captivated by what he learned of Wright's approach which he termed as "organic architecture," the belief that art and design have a duty to serve man in harmony with the natural world, the younger Edgar decided to venture to Taliesin to meet the architect. Kaufmann Jr. was eager to apply for a fellowship at Taliesin where Wright had a studio-workshop - he was accepted into Taliesin in October of 1934 - and to observe the architect firsthand as he applied his theories into practice.
(Source:, 2011)

A graphic poster illustrating Wright's most iconic works:
The Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater & the Robie House
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It was Edgar Jr.'s enthusiasm for Wright's work and his discussion of Wright's ideas with his parents - both of whom were art lovers - that brought about the meeting between Kaufmann Sr. and Frank Lloyd Wright. Within a month of Edgar Jr.'s enrollment at Taliesin, Edgar and his wife, Liliane, arrived at the Taliesin studio for a visit with their son; it was there, at Taliesin, that the two men - the architect and his future benefactor - met for the first time. Both men shared similar aesthetic values: a passionate love for innovative ideas and the importance of the relationship between man and the natural world around him. What was to become known as Fallingwater was, in fact, Wright's 'comeback commission'; the architect, whose contemporaries had erroneously thought was close to retirement was, actually, on the brink of the most fertile phase of his career and Fallingwater was its launchpad. As it turned out, that phase sustained him until his death at the age of ninety.

As was just mentioned, at the time of their meeting, Wright was thought by many to be in the twilight stage of his long career - he was 67 when he first visited Bear Run in 1934. The commission by Kaufmann was for a weekend family home. It was the Kaufmann family's love of Bear Run's waterfalls that inspired Wright to construct their residence not across the stream from the falls as the Kaufmanns had expected but instead, directly over the rushing waters where the house would become a part of the landscape rather than merely a spectator of it. To that end, Wright selected the best and most dramatic part of the falls as the site for Fallingwater. But a great architect, like a great artist, needs an equally great patron who shares in the creator's vision; a patron whose receptiveness to new ideas fosters and stimulates the creative process of  the architect's imagination - Kaufmann was the ideal counterpart for Wright's visionary genius. Fallingwater is the direct result of this unique relationship between client and architect. (Source:, 2011)


Main Entrance sketch showing the Trellised Driveway
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From the accounts of those close to Wright at the time of Fallingwater's conception, his apprentices, the first drawings of Fallingwater were the last; that is, the concept for the house sprung from Wright's mind well nigh complete - and it all flowed from the architect's hand onto paper in a matter of hours. Having called Wright to inform him of his impending arrival, Kaufmann paid what was essentially an unexpected visit at Taliesin to see how the plans for his house were coming along (the name given to the house, Fallingwater, was promptly conceived; Wright wrote out the name in bold, capital letters across the bottom of  the drawings). Mirroring the natural patterns of the surrounding rocks and boulders, Wright established the house over the falls in a series of "cantilevered concrete 'trays' anchored to a central stone chimney mass quarried from the same Pottsville sandstone as the the rock ledges." Construction began in 1935. (Source & quote:, 2011)

An isometric perspective drawing of Fallingwater
(From: Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House, Abbeville Press)
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The horizontal lines of these 'trays' as well as its low, sheltering ceilings give the house a sense of permanence, harmony, expanse and stability. But Wright's intention was for Fallingwater to be as much a part of the surrounding landscape as for the landscape to be a part of the house, and to encourage its inhabitants to enjoy, as much as possible, the natural elements around them. To achieve that goal, Wright surrounded the house with outdoor terraces - there is as much floor space outside of the house as there is inside of it. The main advantage of allotting the house with substantial amounts of outdoor spaces are the various views and perspectives they afford, giving its inhabitants - and visitors - the opportunity of experiencing both the house and its environs from unique vantage points. (Source:, 2011)

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"...if I don't have your confidence - to hell with the whole thing" was Wright's infamous reply to Kaufmann when doubt, on Kaufmann's part, momentarily crept into the equation. Dissent came when Kaufmann mistakenly showed Wright's blueprints to engineers who informed Kaufmann that the house would require additional support. When he learned of this, Wright was livid - he was an architect who demanded and expected complete confidence and surrender from his clients. The approach to his design plans were so complete, so intrinsic and involved, that Wright's vision included not only the blueprints of a building under construction but the furniture and everything in (and associated with) it. 
Back and forth letters were sent in which architect and client debated the designs, details and of course, the commission fees and escalating costs. In spite of their heated arguments, both men recognized their need for one another to achieve something truly unique; a lasting friendship, based on mutual respect, developed and sustained the two men for many years afterwards. And so, by 1936, the first rudimentary stages of Fallingwater began to form and emerge out of the rocks of Bear Run: "Where undulating stream met unyielding stone... where the wildness of nature met the will of one man, one of the 20th century's greatest architectural achievements was created." (Source & quote:, 2011)

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Image courtesy of: ALHdesign | deviantart
Even before its completion in the autumn of 1937, Fallingwater was already establishing its singular position on the American landscape - and in the American psyche - when a portrait of its creator, Frank Lloyd Wright, appeared on the cover of Time magazine with an original drawing of the house behind him as a backdrop. But not everyone was as enthralled with Wright's concept as Kaufmann was. With the Time article there also came criticism: its stability and structural integrity were called into question; its design lambasted; its functionality disputed. But in time, as the house began to garner more acclaim than criticism, Fallingwater was eventually recognized for what it was: a "unique and groundbreaking achievement in architecture," and criticism receded into silence. (Source & quote:, 2011)

Site Plan
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"Organic architecture" is how Wright described his form of integrative architecture - it is the promotion of harmony between (and oneness of) people and nature; it is the concept of design that integrates architecture into its setting. Building, furnishings and surroundings are conceived to form a cohesive, unified entity. As Wright expressed it, "Where the whole is [to] the part as the part is to the whole and where the nature of the materials, the nature of the purpose, the nature of the entire performance" are equally important to the completed structure. An example of this form of architecture is by the fireplace  in the Living Room where a boulder, instead of being removed to make way for the space designed, is incorporated into the room, becoming a part of it; the delineations between the  inner and outer environments are blurred and amalgamated. (Source & quote:, 2011)

First Floor plan

Second Floor plan

Third Floor plan

Guest Wing plan 1

Guest Wing plan 2
The above five images are courtesy of:

The Kaufmann family began to use the house, at the latter end of 1937, as a weekend retreat. Here, the family would retreat with a few invited guests for some quiet time. On occasion, large groups of people would be entertained, drawn to Fallingwater by the house's fame. To accommodate the Kaufmanns' stream of visitors, a guesthouse was eventually added to the grounds. The house generated much interest and people, eager to experience it, came from far and wide, from intellectual as well as artistic circles. One such visitor who came for a stay, an association that developed out of curiosity over Fallingwater's mystique, was none other than the winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, Albert Einstein.
The Kaufmanns were the original caretakers of Fallingwater. However, shortly after the demise of Liliane Kaufmann in 1952, Kaufmann and his son, Edgar Jr., discussed the future of their family residence and agreed that the house and its surrounding land should be designated a public domain. When, three years later, Kaufmann Sr. passed away in April 1955, the care and responsibility of Fallingwater was left to his son. Though Edgar Kaufmann Jr. continued to invite friends to the house, in 1963, he entrusted it along with its surrounding land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), which opened it to the public. Edgar Kaufmann continued to be involved in its preservation until his death in 1989. (Source:, 2011)

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Today, over one-hundred thousand visitors come to Fallingwater annually. The toll of the elements and time on the house are damaging as well as monumental and the costs of maintenance and preservation of Fallingwater is reliant on experts, artists, labourers and public support. Prior to the 1980s, preservation focused mainly on the patching and repainting of concrete surfaces.  In 1981, new roofs were added and, in recent years, steps have been undertaken to augment the structural integrity of the house, including: waterproofing the entire compound and replacing the original windows with ultraviolet-filtering glass which  helps to preserve the interior woodwork and collections from sun damage. From 2001 to 2003, major structural and architectural repairs were made which included the strengthening of some of the cantilevers, the installation of a waterproofing system and the cleaning of all of the exterior walls. The exclusive pleasures of Fallingwater, once a private family residence and today a museum, are now for anyone to enjoy and experience. It remains an outstanding example of progressive 20th century architecture.
(Source:, 2011)
Fallingwater ~ the background used for Wright's Time magazine cover

Interior view of the living space

Main perspective from the garden

Perspective with the pergola leading towards the main entrance

Japanese garden ground plan
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South elevation ~ front view of Fallingwater facing the waterfall

East elevation

West elevation showing cantilevered floors & terraces
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I began to see a building primarily not as a cave but a broad shelter in the open, related to vista within and vista without.”
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Staircase from the Living Room to the stream below
(Photo courtesy of Lucas Gray ~ 2008:  Lucas Gray's Picasa Album)

(Photo by Yang Sun ~ 2008)

Outside staircase leading upstairs to the main house

View from the bridge
(The two photos above are by Moffatt Fam ~ 2008)

(Photo by Dhruves ~ 2007)

(Photo by Stan ~ 2008)

(Photo by Chris ~ 2008)

(Photo by Akosche ~ 2009)

(The two photos above are by Kelvin ~ 2007)
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The planes parallel to the earth in buildings, do most to make the buildings belong to the ground.”

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Living Room
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Living Room
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Living Room
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Views of the Living Room

View of the stream from the Living Room


View from the kitchen windows

Corner view of the Bedroom

Edgar J. Kaufmann's desk

Desk with the built-in lamp and the barrel chair (in the foreground)
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Leisure Room

Resting Area
(A Lee Sandstead image ~ 2003)
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The Library desk in the Leisure Room
(A Lee Sandstead image ~ 2003)
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Living Room

The Trellised Driveway
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Architecture already favors the reflex, the natural easy attitude, the occult symmetry of the grace and rhythm affirming the ease, grace, and naturalness of natural life.” 

Stairs leading to the Upper Gallery & Bedroom

Views of the Living Room

Leisure Room

(Photos by Via Bulatao)
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Simplicity is a clean, direct expression of that essential quality of the thing which is in the nature of the thing itself. The innate or organic pattern of the form of anything is that form which is thus truly simple.”

The Guesthouse
Photographs by George Smart
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There is a simplicity of vision in creation between Music and Architecture. Only the nature of the materials differ.”

The Guesthouse

The Guesthouse

Covered walkway leading to the Guesthouse
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Trellised Driveway viewed from above

The Guesthouse

Two views of the Guesthouse Plunge Pool

Southeast Terrace

The Dining Area

Second Floor Bedroom with fireplace, West Tower

Stairway & Gallery leading to the bedroom

Guest Bedroom

West Terrace Staircase

Second Floor Stair Landing

The Living Room
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South Elevation ~ Autumn

Northwest Elevation ~ Winter
The above two paintings of Fallingwater are by Félix de la Concha
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Guesthouse Plunge Pool

Covered Walkway

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Every great architect isnecessarilya great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.

(Photos by Raquel ~ 2010)
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Video courtesy of: nagarmancair ~

This is a house that summed up the 20th century and then thrust it forward still further. Within this remarkable building Frank Lloyd Wright recapitulated themes that had preoccupied him since his career began a half century earlier, but he did not reproduce them literally. Instead, he cast his net wider, integrating European modernism and his own love of nature and structural daring, and pulled it all together into a brilliantly resolved totality. Fallingwater is Wright's greatest essay in horizontal space; it is his most powerful piece of structural drama; it is his most sublime integration of man and nature.”
~ Paul Goldberger, architecture critic & contributing editor for Vanity Fair

Fallingwater in winter
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Recommended readings:

Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House (1986), by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.: Abbeville Press

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: The House And Its History (1993), by Donald Hoffmann: Courier Dover Publications

Fallingwater (1994), by Robert McCarter: Phaidon

Understanding Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture (1995), by Donald Hoffmann: Courier Dover Publications

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (1996), by Carla Lind: Pomegranate

Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright's Romance With Nature (1996), by Frank Lloyd Wright & Lynda S. Waggoner: Fallingwater, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog (2002), by Frank Lloyd Wright & William Allin Storrer: University of Chicago Press

Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House (2003), by Franklin Toker: Random House of Canada 

Fallingwater (2011), by Lynda Waggoner: Rizzoli


  1. meticulous overview here-

    thank you.

  2. amazing collection of pictures..

  3. I'm so glad to know you liked this posting.

    Thank you (both) for your comment(s).

    ₵. Ð.

  4. Hi there, You have done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I am sure they'll be benefited from this site.
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  5. Dear Mr. Schmidt:

    Thank you for your compliment & recommendation.

    All the best to you ~ ₵. Ð.

  6. I have enjoyed your site and the pictures. I can't wait to see this beautiful home and it surroundings in person.

    Thanks again.


    L. Woznicki

    1. Dear L. Woznicki:

      I'm very pleased to hear that you've enjoyed this posting & site. Mr. Wright was surely one of the most talented American architects of the last century. Needless to say, he is one of my favourite architects. What I like most about his work is his unerring vision & confidence - it is infused with confidence.

      Enjoy your tour of Fallingwater; as beautiful as it is in pictures, I'm certain it's sublime in person.

      Thanks for your comment. ₵. Ð.