Location: Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Photographs: Franklin Heijnen
The National Historic Landmark of Fallingwater is one of the finest and most daring architectural endeavors of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright. Built over a waterfall on the Bear Run River, and hidden away in the natural sanctuary of the Allegheny Mountains, Fallingwater is a spectacular example of marriage between natural landscape and human architecture.
Fallingwater was originally designed in 1935 for Edgar Kaufmann Sr., which earned it the nickname of Kaufmann Residence. Kauffman wanted the structure to face the south bank of the river, but Wright wanted to use the waterfall as the very foundation of Fallingwater. He could not have made a better architectural decision. The perpendicular rocks of the waterfall provide a natural foundation to the house that makes it look as if nature intended it so.
Wright used the perpendicular rocks jutting out from the waterfall as the starting point of Fallingwater. Because the location was not wide enough for the entire project, cantilevered floors were mostly used to support the structure. The beauty of the structure comes from the artistic vision of the architect, who repeated the lines of the rocks below in the ledges above the structure.
The interior of Fallingwater is done extensively in glass to allow for a maximum view of the surrounding environment. Wright’s love for Japanese architecture led him to use materials that would intuitively integrate the interior into the environment, a concept which is widely used in Japanese designs. This concept is particularly pronounced in the interior of the living area, where Wright has made extensive use of glass, Ochre wood, and Cherokee red steel, which further blends the interior of Fallingwater further into its natural surroundings.
Wright left many natural elements intact, which gives the entire place a feel of rustic rawness. The large fireplace hearth, for instance, sits in the living area and uses boulders from the natural site. Similarly, a bare rock protrudes visibly into the living room, but is left intact. A stream runs from the main house down to the interior of the servant level and out to the exterior of the structure, again emphasizing the presence of natural elements. The soft rhythmic hum off the dripping water can be heard throughout the house, pronouncing the divinity of the structure.
The house cost $155,000 to build in 1939. The structure went through restoration and refurbishment before it was opened to the public as a museum in 1964. The restoration process was completed in 2009, and cost $11.4 million. It included reinforcing the cement of balconies and the cantilevered floors, alleviating the deflection using steel cables and post-tensioning, and fixing the mold problem caused by the constantly humid weather conditions. The restoration was conducted to protect the look of the house, with as few changes to its interior and exterior as possible.
Because of its unusual architecture and breathtaking dimensions, Fallingwater was named the “best all-time work of American architecture” by the American Institute of Architects in 1991. Considered by the Smithsonian to be one of the 28 places “to visit before you die,” the museum attracts over 150,000 visitors every year.