Friday, April 30, 2010

At Fallingwater

We took off for Philly on Thursday to spend the weekend with Matthew and Sharon.  From Cincinnati this involves driving west to east all the way across Pennsylvania.  Now that's not such a terrible drive, nothing like driving across Texas or Nebraska (not that the two should be compared in any negative sense other than football).  So we made the decision to make the trip in two days and take a little side trip to Fallingwater, one of the more famous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings which just happens to be located in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, a 90 minute drive south from Pittsburgh. 

Now if you didn't know better, one might wonder why a building might be called Fallingwater.  The reason is that this was built as a private vacation house for the Kaufman family who were the owners of a department store in Pittsburgh until it was acquired by the May Company in 1946.  These folks had this "camp ground" on a stream that they loved to visit and there just happened to be some waterfalls there.  So if you like the place and are going to build a vacation home, then why not build it right on top of the waterfall?  That makes all kinds of sense if you are Frank Lloyd Wright.

I don't know much about architecture- and not much about Frank Lloyd Wright.  But you can't be a living, breathing human being this century without having heard of Frank Lloyd Wright- and I've done my share of living and breathing.  I'm not sure the first time I heard of Fallingwater- it was after I moved to Ohio (and long after I knew the name Frank Lloyd Wright)- And there was even a personal connection because Don's brother lives in a house in Columbus that is a designed by a Wright Wanabe.  So we'd drive across Pennsylvania- for NYC- and now for Philly- and would say "someday...we'll stop".  Well that day was today. You really need to stop as well.  This is no ordinary house- and no ordinary story.

The Kaufman's were a wealthy, well educated Jewish family from Pittsburgh- traveling in artistic, well educated, sophisticated, international circles. They had one son.  This son-with an artistic nature- read Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography (Wright was a prolific author- writing 20 books over his life)- And decided that he must, absolutely must study with Wright.  And he did.  It was this meeting that provided the catalyst that would become Fallingwater. 
Now for the accolades.  Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the GREATEST AMERICAN ARCHITECT!  And Fallingwater is considered his GREATEST WORK!  Wright was ambitious- and impetuous- arguably a genius.  And his life was absolutely scandalous.  Because of the publicity of his disastrous personal life- and the agonizing difficulty in obtaining commissions during the GREAT DEPRESSION, Wright's career as an architect was officially declared DEAD!  He was almost 70 years old- and had not designed in some time.  Talk about a comeback story!  He saw the land at Bear Run- the home of Fallingwater- for the first time at the age of 67 in 1933.  Of the more than 1000 Wright designs over his life time, over half of this amazing creativity began with this masterpiece, Fallingwater!  Amazingly, a third of his work was during the last decade of his life- before his death at 92. Makes me feel like maybe at this point in my life- younger than Wright when he designed Fallingwater- that maybe this ought to be considered a beginning- rather than a wind down to the end...  Imagine- your greatest work after your 65th birthday!

Anyway, we took the tour today and although we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the house, we could take all we wanted outside.  We'll have to come back and take the LONG TOUR- And this house does have a rather "museum" feel.  And it was a gallery of sorts- in fact the Kaufman's were personal friends with Frida Kahlo- she was a house guest at Fallingwater- and had presented the Kaufmans with two works by Diego Rivera that hang in Fallingwater. But as Don said- we could tour the inside- but we weren't permitted to take pictures during this SHORT TOUR.

So here are a few pictures of that famous house.  The one below taken as you approach the house.  To the right is a bridge that crosses the stream.

This sculpture sits right next to the stream on a sandstone rock wall.  The house is built of stone (all local sandstone, concrete, steel and glass).
This picture taken from the bridge looking at the stream.  The water is very clear and thus is not obvious in this picture

This picture better shows the water under the GREAT ROOM- these stairs lead to the water- and stop- they don't go anywhere- Grand Design- to sit on the steps and cool your feet in the water that flows to the waterfall below your home!

This was a foot wash station for use before coming into the house.  Note the stream of water and the bar of soap (Yardley Lavendar Soap) hanging from a chain.

These next two pictures were taken from behind the house..

And finally, the classic picture of Fallingwater that is used most often to show the house.

Finally, I want to put in my two cents worth about this house, and I guess most things designed by Wright.  The house and location are truly beautiful.  They are much more a work of art than what I would consider a comfy vacation home.  But then again, I'm not a big fan of contemporary design.  It's just not warm and inviting, almost like being in a museum, a cold and very impersonal museum where you can look, but not use.  I know Wright designed things to be useful and open, using horizontal lines and lots of windows, but it just doesn't feel like it could be a home.
Frank Lloyd Wright was as much an interior design artist as he was architect.  He designed all the furniture and textiles for his homes.  His interiors carried his vision every bit as much as his exteriors.  One of the most incredible parts of the interior of Fallingwater is the design of the hearth in the great room to include the huge boulder that the Kaufman's had used for sunning on their many trips to Bear Run as the hearth floor.
But of course I might point out that for Don (and me) the most important "design" feature of furniture- say a couch- is comfort.  We always walk into a furniture store and after I select a few sofas for color or style Don reclines for a little nap.  We buy the one that "naps" the best!
But this house was very lived in- and entertained in- and celebrated!  The Kaufman's used this as their retreat for about 30 years.  Near the end of the elder Kaufman's life he and his son determined that this great treasure was best donated so it might be shared with the public.  Eventually the son gave Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which then opened this treasure to the public. I'm so grateful that the Kaufman's in their touching generosity gave this gift of Frank Lloyd Wright to all of us!


Sandy said...

And thank you for offering a 'tour' to those of us far away from PA! There are FLW houses, Don, that have a wonderful interior feel - the recreated room at the MET in NY is a truly satisfying interior to me, but I am so tuned into the Japanese aethetic that informed his work, I just bask in it when I'm there.
I did enjoy the novel called "Loving Frank" and recommend it, even if it is someone's interpretation of actual events. It covers the scandalous and tragic story of his romance with Mamah Borthwick.

Amber said...

wow! i loved reading this post! if you want more flw, we can do a tour in chicago. i love his designs but they aren't very liveable and are a nightmare for preservationists. we talked about his designs a lot in my preservation class and two girls did a national reg. nom for a flw house and the property was amazing but difficult!

Maxanna said...

To Sandy,
I actually bought the book "Loving Frank" at the FLW shop! I can't wait to read it! And I do love the Japanese aesthetic as well. Always makes my world shift a bit- and I feel more peaceful!
Thanks so much for your comments.
To Amber,
I'd love to see more FLW in Chicago. That's where he started his career (all the architects in the whole country moved to Chicago to be part of rebuilding such a magnificent city after the fire). So let's make sure we see more FLW when we visit.
And we can so understand the difficulty for preservationists! His work is much more art than engineering!

Brandy said...

Thanks for the tour! Nice pics!