Fallingwater, arguably Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous design, was begun in 1936 as a retreat for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family. The design placed the home above a waterfall located on the site, rather than facing it as Kaufmann had suggested to Wright (Fay-west. com 2005). The materials Wright selected and Kaufmann approved were concrete for the foundation and native sandstone, quarried on the site for walls and used to separate the trays of reinforced concrete making up the living and bedroom areas. The home is cantilevered over the stream, which forms the waterfall.
It is a dramatic design and recognized as “…a house that summed up the 20th century and then thrust it forward still further (Goldberger 1986). Fallingwater was used as a weekend retreat by the Kaufmann family from 1937 until 1963 when Edgar Kaufmann, jr. donated the home and its contents to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Built by local craftsmen, it is the only Wright work to survive as originally designed and with its contents and art intact. The building was built as a weekend retreat for the family of Pittsburgh department store mogul, Edgar J. Kaufmann.
It was used for that purpose up until it was deeded over to the conservancy and has been open to the public in its original state since 1964. Wright masterfully planned each structural element of this house to be in complete harmony with nature and its surroundings. Three-foot wide cantilevers thrust out over the stream from their anchors, both in the bedrock and from sandstone masonry set in place for that purpose. They form the primary support for the main level terrace. A fundemental part of the structure is the soffit slab, which integrates with the girders and acts as a load carrying T beam.
It is unfortunate but engineers have determined that the structure is not sound, which does not detract from the aesthetics but after fifty years the structure needed major work to keep it from falling into the river. The sixteen one-inch rebars were not sufficient reinforcement for the design’s load. Both terraces began to sag downward toward the river beneath the building (Structural Group 2005). Reinforcement work began in 2001 after major studies were undertaken to determine the best methods to shore it up.
While Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the Prairie School, his Fallingwater home, while linear in the Prairie tradition, is ultra modern and stands alone as a tribute to the genius of Wright as an innovator. The use of cantilevers to extend the home out into space and span the river below was innovative and rarely if every seen in a private home. Wright’s use of the linear coupled with the ultra modern design was then married to a Prairie School style, utilizing nature and natural materials whenever possible.
I am drawn to this home because of the distinctiveness of the design. Where Wright could have designed a log cabin or hunting lodge for the Pittsburgh millionaire, he chose to put forth what must have been a radical design for its time. Today it still amazes the thousands of visitors who trek through the nature preserve where the home sits. The building fits into its surroundings as if it grew there. The cantilevers over the stream make it seem as if a cliff has extend out over the edge of a waterfall.
The trees were left in place whenever possible and the use of the native materials, principally sandstone quarried onsite, are harmonious with the entire unit. This structure functioned as a weekend retreat and country home for the Kaufmann family for decades, just as it was designed to do. Today it stands as a memorial to that family’s vision in allowing a genius to erect his dream as well as a shrine to the genius as well. It serves the visitors who flock to see what can be done if man dares imagine.
Fay-West. com 2005 Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater Retrieved 09/09-2007 From: http://www. fay-west. com/fayette/fallingwater/ Goldberger, P 1986 as quoted by Fay-West. com Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling- water Retrieved 09/09/2007 from: http://www. fay-west. com/fayette/fallingwater/ Structural Group 2005 Project Background: Frank Lloyd Wright’s renowned Architectural jewel undergoes external post-tensioning by VSL Retrieved 09/09/2007 from: http://www. structural. net/Fallingwater/ fallingwater_bkgd. html