Fallingwater, also known as the Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. Residence, is a house on Bear Run at Rural Route 1 in Mill Run, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in the Laurel Highlands of the Allegheny Mountains. The house was designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. Wright adapted the vocabulary of International Modernism, a usually stark and ordered variety used in public buildings for this organically designed private residence intended to be a nature retreat. The house is well-known for its connection to the site: it is built on top of an active waterfall which flows beneath the house. The fireplace hearth in the living room is composed of boulders found on the site and upon which the house was built. Wright had initially intended that the boulders would be cut flush with the living room floor, but they were left as they were, protruding from the rest of the floor. The stone floors are waxed, while the hearth is left plain, giving the impression of dry rocks protruding from a stream. The active stream, immediate surroundings and cantilevered design of the house are meant to be in unison, in line with Wright's interest in making buildings that were more "organic" and which thus seemed to be more engaged with their surroundings. The design incorporates broad expanses of windows and the balconies are off main rooms giving a sense of the closeness of the surroundings. There is also an interior staircase down from the living room allowing direct access to the stream beneath the house. On the hillside above the main house is a garage, servants' quarters, and a guest bedroom. This attached outbuilding was built using the same quality of materials and attention to detail as the main house. There are many ways into and out of the house.
Fallingwater's structural system includes a series of bold reinforced concrete cantilevered balconies. However, the house had problems from the beginning.
Pronounced sags were noticed immediately with both of the prominent balconies — the living room and the second floor. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is performing
an intensive program to preserve and restore Fallingwater. The structural work was complete in 2002. This involved an intensive study of the original design documents,
observing and modeling the structure's behaviour, then developing and implementing a repair plan. While Wright had been ruminating on the architectural design for months
(Tokfer 2003), results of the study indicated that the original structural design and plan preparation had been rushed and the cantilevers had significantly inadequate
reinforcement. As originally designed the cantilevers would not have held their own weight. (Feldman 2005). The contractor, also an engineer, produced independent
computations and argued for increasing the reinforcement. Wright rebuffed the contractor and Kaufmann took Wright's advice. Wright's team did not update their
design. Nevertheless, the contractor quietly doubled the amount of reinforcement in these. (Feldman 2005) Even this was not enough, but likely prevented the structure's collapse.
Fallingwater is recognized as one of Wright's most acclaimed works, and in a 1991 poll of members of the American Institute of Architects, it was voted "the best all-time work
of American architecture." It is a supreme example of Frank Lloyd Wright's concept of organic architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature through design
so well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition. Wright embraced modern technology to
achieve this, designing spaces for living which expressed architecturally the expansive freedom of the American frontier.
"There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock ledge rising beside a waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from that rock bank over the
falling water....Then came (of course) Mr. Kaufmann's love for the beautiful site. He loved the site where the house was built and liked to listen to the waterfall. So that
was a prime motive in the design. I think that you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design. At least it is there, and he lives intimately with the thing he loves." --
Frank Lloyd Wright in an interview with Hugh Downs, 1954
the name given to the stream which today flows beneath Fallingwater, once supported a tiny mountain community typical of small settlements in what we now call the Laurel
Highlands region of western Pennsylvania. Once the site of Monongahela Indian settlements, and later the hunting grounds of the Iroquois, the region was explored by
George Washington as part of his search for river transportation to the head of the Ohio River. After the French and Indian War, people of varied European origins began to
settle along the rivers and trails of the mountain district, drawn by timber and dense stone (both could be sold and transported), by game and fish, water for milling, clay for
pots and bricks, and warm pelts. Subsistence farming began despite poor soil.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect
Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the most influential American architect of the 20th century. His legacy is an architectural style that departed from European influences to
create a purely American form, one that included the idea that buildings can be in harmony with the natural environment. Over his long career Wright designed a wide
variety of structures, both public and private, including the home known as Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Building and New York's Guggenheim Museum.
Edgar Kaufmann Sr. was a successful Pittsburgh businessman. His son, Edgar Jr., studied architecture under Wright briefly. The Kaufmanns owned some property outside Pittsburgh with a waterfall and some cabins. When the cabins at their camp had deteriorated to the point that something had to be rebuilt, Mr. Kaufman contacted Wright. Initially assumed that Wright would design a house that would overlook the waterfall. Wright asked for a survey of the area around the waterfall, including all of the boulders and trees. They were unprepared to hear Wright's suggestion to build a house positioned over a waterfall. Fallingwater was the family's weekend home from 1937 to 1963.
Organic architecture is a branch of architecture which promotes harmony between man and nature through design so well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition