As one of the world’s most celebrated buildings, Fallingwater helped define 20th-century modernism and its iconic southwest elevation has been included in college Introduction to Art History classes for decades. A darling of photographers, Fallingwater is, nevertheless, a daunting subject for painters. Perhaps this is because our expectations for accuracy are so great or because the subtle qualities that define it are so difficult to capture. Regardless, most painters’ efforts to represent it have resulted in disappointment. This is not the case with Félix de la Concha’s interpretations of Wright’s masterpiece.
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 people 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.
For Fallingwater, designed in 1935 for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, Wright responded to the family’s love for a waterfall on Bear Run, a rushing mountain stream. Mimicking a natural pattern established by its rock ledges, Wright placed the house over the falls in a series of cantilevered concrete “trays,” anchored to masonry walls made of the same Pottsville sandstone as the rock ledges. Although the house rises over 30’ above the falls, strong horizontal lines and low ceilings help maintain a sheltering effect. Almost as much floor space is taken up by outdoor terraces as indoor rooms.
Construction began in 1936 and ended with the completion of the guest house in 1939. The Kaufmann family used Fallingwater in all seasons as a weekend or vacation home until the 1950s, when their son inherited it. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., by then a Curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, continued to use Fallingwater until he entrusted it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. His gift was lauded by the architectural community as a commendable act of preservation during a time in which many Wright-designed buildings were being demolished or in serious states of disrepair.
Fallingwater is the only great Wright house open to the public with its setting, original furnishings, and artwork intact. Almost all of the original Wright-designed furnishings are still in place. Fine art, textiles, objets d’art, books, and furnishings collected by the Kaufmann family from the 1930s through the 1960s are on view.
One of “50 Places of a Lifetime”
“Best all-time work of American architecture”
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Treasure, 2000
“Save America’s Treasures” Official Project, 1999
National Historic Landmark, 1976
America’s Most Favorite Historic Home, 2002
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Fallingwater is located at Route 381 South, Mill Run, PA 15464, nestled within the Pittsburgh and Its Countryside Region in southwestern Pennsylvania.
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© Félix de la Concha