It is a hard job to choose one work from the great Frank Lloyd Wright, as his long and interesting career include many inspiring buildings. We think Fallingwater house gets two main achievements, a client’s satisfaction and a project fully inspired. This is why we have chosen this project, as we think every project in architecture should fulfill these two premises.
The client in this case was a very wealthy couple, Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, owners of a department store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were very cultivated people, and very often they were surrounded by artists. When they decided to build a house for retreat in the woods, in Laurel Highlands (more than one hour driving from Pittsburgh), Wright’s name appeared thanks to their son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.
Jr. was an architect, also very intellectual and passionate about arts, and he had been trained in Taliesin East School, Wright’s own studio in Arizona. Here is where he had resident apprentices who worked for him (and learned from him at the same time). And among them, Kaufmann Jr., who saw the opportunity to have a project designed by his admired teacher.
Frank Lloyd Wright, at the time of the assignment, was 68. He was a famous, rewarded architect, who still was willing to create a masterpiece. And it looks like he achieved it in this project. Although he had a few more great works after this (Guggenheim Museum in NY, Marin County Civic Center in CA, etc.), Fallingwater house has been voted by the AIA (American Institute of Architects) the best all-time work of American architecture.
What makes this project so special? Mostly, the continuous conversation between nature and architecture, like if they were lovers intertwined. And this is where Wright’s mastery stands out. The Kaufmann’s had already chosen another place for the house, as it was more convenient for them in terms of accessibility. But Wright had it crystal clear from his first visit to the site. The waterfall was a feature to be included in the house, but also to be respected. The house embraces it, follows her path, covers her and accompany her, but also lets her free, doesn’t intervene in her natural flow.
Not only outside but, also when you are inside the house, nature surrounds you in every sense. The view is expanded by its panoramic windows, so you are always reminded that you are placed in a natural environment. Even Wright’s design for corner windows let you see the landscape with no obstacles in between, not even carpentry. The touch, as you can feel the texture of the natural stone arising from the floor and being part of it. Stone is everywhere, naturally or transformed, but they are all the same. The stone used in this building comes directly from the rocks surrounding the house, this is why it becomes camouflaged with the setting. Even more, we can feel the wood, used all over the house, in furniture, shelves, etc. And last, but not least, the hearing, of course, as you hear water running under you all the time.
Apart from the general design, in our opinion, small details make an architect big. And Wright had a lot. Unique fireplaces, special windows, furniture designed for this house… Everywhere you set your eyes upon in this house, you always discover a piece of his genius. Even when he made an extension, the guest house, the corridor that joins both houses is covered by a canopy so elegantly designed as nothing else we have seen.
Pictures and words can’t describe the feeling you get when you enter a place like this. This is what it makes it a masterpiece. Architecture is not only an object to be seen. You have to experience it, to feel it, and we had that great opportunity visiting the house. Even if it was just a little time, it was enough to make you dream you were part of Kaufmann’s family. Or at least, their guest.