The Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water House is a unique architectural mixture of nature and challenging construction. The creator, architect Frank Lloyd Wright was always willing to accept a challenge and in the Fallingwater residence has created a master piece.
Located on State Route 381, north of US 40 and south of PA Turnpike (I-76) lies a 20th Century building masterpiece which proves popular with tourists. Called “Fallingwater” (or falling wart-her as the locals pronounce it) this place used to be a holiday home for the wealthy Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh.
Commissioned in 1935 and built between 1936-39 the home was initially estimated to cost somewhere between $20,000 – $30,000. As it turns out over $155,000 was paid in the end. I would guess that today the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house would be worth many millions. It is spacious, unique and tries to integrate itself with nature.
I arrived at the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water location on a Saturday afternoon in mid-November. (The place closes for January – February). To my surprise the place was full of activity and at $23 per person (including a one hour tour of the house) I was surprised at the popularity of the place.
Guided tours are run every 6 minutes so hopefully you can be assigned to a tour soon after arriving. Tours seem to involve groups of 10-15 people.
I must admit to some initial disappointment that we were instructed (after paying for the tour) that pictures were not allowed to be taken inside the house. No explanation was given for this. This seems a bit harsh after paying what I consider to be a fair sum for a tour to then being restricted on taking those memories home with digital images. The Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house is novel and if the only pictures you have as memories are from ridiculously overpriced books and videos in the on-site store then there is only one winner here.
We were also advised not to touch anything inside the house other than the stone work. This was fair enough as there were delicate and expensive ornaments and other collectibles.
Edgar J. Kaufmann who used to own the house was a successful businessman in Pittsburgh who owned a department store. With his wealth not only were they able to have a unique house designed by sought after architect Frank Lloyd Wright, they were also able to fit the house out with some wonderful collectibles.
Our tour guide, Linda seemed to be someone who thrived on sharing the knowledge of the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house. She did however seem to me to be quite bossy and pushy. After all we were paying customers but sometimes it felt like she was treating some of our group like school children. “Move over here”, “Don’t stand there” etc were direct orders as opposed to polite requests.
On leaving the modern looking Visitors Centre we took a short walk through a lovely wooded area to meet Linda our guide. After brief introductions we stood on the bridge outside the house and observed our first impressions of Fallingwater.
Our guide used the word “cantilever” many times. This describes how numerous elements of the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house such as terraces, rooms, even wardrobes are fixed to a standing structure on one side yet hang out on the other side. The way the house terraces hang over the water fall (Bear Run) demonstrates this to great effect.
By living in the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house the Kaufmanns could really experience a life with nature. All around the house they could listen to the falling water.
Built from locally quarried sandstone, Fallingwater also incorporates local boulders which, remaining in their natural position, form elements of the house as the construction goes around these natural barriers.
Fallingwater maintains the Kaufmann and Lloyd Wright aspiration of being close to nature. There is a specially designed plunge pool plus a swimming pool fed naturally by spring water.
The holiday / weekend retreat is centrally heated yet is not air conditioned. The home has many windows and ways to ventilate the house, including some directly above the water fall to allow in cool, fresh air.
Admittedly on walking through the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house it comes across as a very spacious and luxurious home. A clear insight to how the other half lived. Beautiful design, ingenious at times, a lot of privacy and styles which naturally draw you from in to out as the views of the woodland are visible from many angles.
I could only dream of living in such a wonderful setting. Comfort, luxury (with servant quarters present) and being at one with nature is something which clearly money could buy.
In 1939 a guest house was built up a small hill from the main house. This was very much in keeping with the original design. Yet as guest houses go it was a wonderful residence.
Every room showed natural sandstone walls inside and out. Every window and terrace had a stunning view and sounds of water. Hours could be lost in tranquillity here.
At the end of the tour we were brought into a video room. We were shown a short video about the home which soon moved onto the modern keepers of the home, The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. So here came the semi-hard sell which nobody likes. To be honest it wasn’t too hard a sell but they had to present their case and show much of the good work they do.
To be honest I was having mixed feelings about this whole experience. Here was what I would consider the equivalent of a 20th Century stately home which was the retreat of a wealthy business family. At, in my mind, a pricey $23 there was only so much to see and learn. From an architects point of view it is a wonder of sorts. The whole construction defied what many thought possible.
Yet somehow, with the hefty price this place was packed out. Running tours every 6 minutes with 10-15 people paying $23 each is something which soon generates a fair amount of money, irrespective of the cost. There was also a popular gift shop which to me was very expensive. Many items for sale were well over $100 and people were buying them.
I then compare that to where I was a few hours earlier. I visited a most fascinating, thought provoking and inspiring historic battlefield at Fort Necessity. For a mere $5 I saw some wonderful exhibits, learnt even more through a video. Then I was able to go to the actual battlefield where an event occurred which was significant in beginning to define American and indeed world history. With all that in mind why were there so few visitors at Fort Necessity?
With all that said, visiting Fallingwater was a novel and interesting experience. There is always a curiosity as to how the wealthy live. When this is accompanied by a design and construction from Frank Lloyd White Falling Water will always raise some interest.