Column: Fallingwater: An architectural masterpiece


Today, we begin a road trip to Cape Cod and back, stopping at interesting places along the way. Our first stop is Fallingwater, about 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, in Mill Run, Penn.

In 1934, most people assumed that 67-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural career was finished. However, that year Edgar Kaufmann, the owner of Kaufmann’s Department Store in Pittsburgh, and his wife Liliane visited their son, Edgar, Jr., who was studying architecture at Taliesin, Wright’s home and studio in southwestern Wisconsin. They asked Wright to design a vacation home on a site then being used as a summer camp. The Kaufmann’s assumed the house would look toward a 30-foot-high waterfall on the property. Instead, Wright visually incorporated the waterfall into the home’s design. Local craftsmen spent two years building the house, sometimes clashing with Wright over structural details. When completed, the house was 9,300 square feet, with 4,400 in cantilevered outdoor terraces. Wright used only two colors for the house – light ochre for the reinforced concrete and his signature Cherokee Red for the steel. A guesthouse was added in 1939. The project’s total cost was $148,000, plus $11,300 in architect’s fees, about five times the original estimate.

Fallingwater received international acclaim for its innovative design and the way it blended harmoniously with its surroundings. Time Magazine featured Fallingwater on its January 1938 cover. Wright’s career restarted and he continued designing, including New York’s iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, until his death in 1959. In 1963, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. donated the house and surrounding grounds, with everything from the time of his parents intact, to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which opened Fallingwater to the public. An extensive renovation in 2002 prevented collapse of the terraces. Since its opening, more than 6 million people have visited Fallingwater, now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizing eight Wright designs.