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  • Subject area(s): Engineering
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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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–––– A Symbolization of Freedom

“Freedom.” This is the first word came to my mind when I saw Fallingwater. After driving all the way from my home university, Bucknell University, to here, I felt so exhausted. I was praying in my deep heart on this three-and-a-half-hour journey that Fallingwater could not let me down. It turned out that all the time and effort was worth it. With the sound of water flowing and the smell of the trees, Fallingwater was partly hidden and partly visible which seemed mysterious. Walking closer, I was amazed by the structure of the house. The house was built over a waterfall which I had never encountered before. Surprisingly, the house and the waterfall integrated with each other perfectly, not even a bit of awkwardness. The irregular exterior, the mixture of ivory paint and the rock structure, and the big French windows are all conveying the sense of freedom. I could feel that every detail of the house was embracing its nature environment. Being in a place far away from highway, every visitor can take a rest from the stressful city life for a while and experience the true nature while at Fallingwater.

As the most famous modern house in the US, Fallingwater was built between 1936 and 1939, and was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is located in southwestern Pennsylvania in a town called Mill Run, about one-hour driving distance from the center of Pittsburgh. The main house uses around 5,330 square feet and cost approximately $155,000 to build. Only four materials were used to build the house –– sandstone, reinforced concrete, steel and glass. The house has three stories, with the main entrance on the second floor (in the US, the first floor means the ground floor, etc.). The most special part of the house is that it was partly built over a waterfall called Bear Run, an eight-kilometer-long tributary of Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania. During the period when the construction on Fallingwater was completed, all the media were reporting about the house since it had changed people’s deep-rooted idea which houses must be built on solid ground.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an outstanding US modern architect born on June 8, 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. In his early years, he had moved a lot with his family. During summer, he often spent time on the farm near Taliesin Hill in Madison with his uncle. His experience in the farm had influenced him on his approach to architecture. Fallingwater can be a perfect example since Wright expressed his desire of being close to nature in his architecture. Wright had only taken two semesters’ courses in civil engineering in University of Wisconsin and then started his career by following architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee. After several months, Wright moved to Chicago and became a mentee of Louis Sullivan who had a big influence on Wright’s architecture style. Wright’s first masterpiece was the Winslow House in Illinois which was designed for Wright’s first client William Winslow. Winslow House showed that Wright was in favor of using uncommon ratios and geometries in his architectures. Wright also believed that architecture should be a bridge connecting people with the environment they live in. This type of architecture is called organic architecture which Wright then become a representative of. Organic architecture is “a philosophy of architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world”. The nature world is a symbolization of freedom, so building a close relationship between people and nature is to help people find freedom. Fallingwater can be a very typical example of organic architecture in the modern context.

Fallingwater is also known as Kaufmann House because it was designed for the Kaufmann’s family. This is saying, the initial intention of the use of the house was to accommodate people. Eagar Kaufmann Sr. was the president of Kaufmann’s Department Store, and his son, Eagar Kaufmann Jr., was a follower of Wright learning architecture. The Kaufmann family owned a property in rural Pittsburgh where there were cabins as retreats. After the cabins deteriorated, Mr. Kaufmann asked Wright to visit the site and design a weekend house for the family. When Wright saw the surrounding area of Bear Run, he knew that here came his opportunity. Wright was so impressed by the waterfall and decided to integrate the house with the sound of the water. In September the following year, Wright finished his first draft. The house looked like an extension of rough rocks across the waterfall, floating on the water. The main house was completed in October, 1937 and then become the Kaufmann family’s retreat. In 1963, four years after Wright’s death, Edgar Kaufmann donated Fallingwater to the local government because he wanted more people to see this masterpiece and appreciate Wright’s ingenious work. Nowadays, Fallingwater, designated as National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1966, attracts thousands of admirers as well as tourists from all over the world every year. More than 4.5 million people has visited Fallingwater since it opened to public in 1964.

It is hard to say that Fallingwater follow a certain style. I would rather say that the house forms its unique style which becomes a representative of the modern architecture. Wright was talent at using geometries in his architectures, simple lines, squares, rectangles, semi-circles, and pentagons. But, the most apparent things to notice are the concrete cantilevers extending out into the space in different directions. The overall shape challenges the traditional regular-shaped buildings. Unlike other houses, Fallingwater looks completely different depending on various perspectives. Since those cantilevers have different length, width, and thickness, each cantilever is unique. From different angles, visitors can see a whole different set of cantilevers. This echoes the concept of building a relationship with nature. Since nature is unpredictable, Wright wanted to make this building unpredictable as well. I feel that it is hard to think of what a certain side of Fallingwater will look like until I actually go around the house and see it with my own eyes. Those cantilevers also create a picture of asymmetry. People often believe that symmetry can bring beauty, but I want to argue that asymmetry sometimes can even carry out more meanings. Fallingwater is like a tree and its cantilevers are like the branches of the tree. Although the branches are stitching out from the same tree, they have different length and thickness. Nature does not need to follow any rules, and everything has its own uniqueness. The use of asymmetrical elements in Fallingwater was smart because they can deliver a message from the architect that the house had already become a part of the nature. I bet Wright wanted to convey this idea of nature and freedom to all the visitors so he designed the house this way. I think the overall integration of those asymmetrical elements is perfect after visiting which was far beyond my expectation.

Fallingwater is also known for its use of material. Wright used a fair amount of glass in Fallingwater, not only on windows, but also on exterior doors. The glass pieces were huge in length and were thinly framed. In order to put the glass pieces into the casements and let glass support the wide expanses, the fragileness added the complexity of the project. In some places, glass windows were even inserted in stone openings. Wright had tried his best to use as much glass as he could. It was a big challenge to use such massive amount of glass in a stone architecture. On the other hand, from the artistic standing point, glass is transparent and clear which represents purity. Looking out through the glass windows, visitors are able to see the wide nature view. The purity of the glass can make people forget all the troubles they have encountered in their lives and pay full attention at the woody forest. It is like being in a paradise, with no shrill noise, no annoying things or people, no high-technology. Everything is back to the very origin, the very low-paced life. If viewing from the outside, the trees are shadowing onto the huge glass windows. When wind comes, the trees are rustling and the movements are captured by the glass windows as if the house is moving along with the trees. During the night, there are three moons, on the sky, in the water, and on the glass windows. The water glistens under the moonlight and reflects onto the crystal glass. The scene is so peaceful.

All the supporting posts are made of sandstones. The flat horizontal rocks and the overall vertical structure of the posts create a sharp contrast that have a strong visual impact.

Echo organic architecture: use nature materials


Going into Fallingwater,

Bedrooms are fairly small compared to the living room

Low floor height

Fallingwater was built in a particular angle for a reason. Wright had spent a lot of time determining the angle of the house so that each room could catch some sunlight every day.

Relationship with the exterior

Did you get surprised by its interior atmosphere when you first came in?

There is a hatchway opening downwards in the back side of the house. From the suspended staircase through the hatchway, people live in the house can easily reach the nature pool. The close relationship between people and the water is enhanced. When I walked down the staircase, I could feel the moisture on my face and hear the flow of the stream like a piece of melody. I could not help daydreaming about myself getting lost. I dreamed about getting lost in a forest, but I was not afraid at all because I knew it was a pleasant journey dressed like an adventure. All I needed to do was relax. I felt like a bird, soaring freely in a forest. Escaped from the noisy city, I found that it was a journey to find my inner peace.

The house is hidden in the forest, so the road leading there is mountain road which is challenging. The difficultness to get to Fallingwater makes the house more mysterious. The more effort made to try to see the house, the more surprised and satisfied when actually see it. On the way towards Fallingwater, there is a sign on the roadside saying “Fallingwater –– A Commonwealth Treasure”. It is not exaggerated at all to call Fallingwater a piece of treasure because it is priceless. There were no houses like this ever before, and Fallingwater opened people’s eyes and formed its own style. Wright used his boundless imagination to create such a house that balance the concrete and nature so well. Fallingwater along with its surroundings looks like an abstract painting, not even realistic. The architecture is like a one that appear in the animation, it is hard to believe in its existence. The extraordinary design of Fallingwater made Frank Lloyd Wright famous and let him being respected by the society. Fallingwater itself sets an important milestone in the architecture history.

I can imagine that if I can take a beach chair onto the cantilever and relax in the soft sunshine with eyes closed, it would the most fantastic moment in my life. Little wild animals come and go as if they are trying to communicate with people live here. The best part of Fallingwater is its interaction with seasons. In spring, vegetation turns green and squirrels wake up from hibernation. Fallingwater gains back its energy from long winter. In summer, the trees block out most of the blazing sunshine and preserve the nice and cool house. When autumn comes, red and yellow fallen leaves covers Fallingwater as if putting on a cloth for the house to prepare for winter. During winter, the waterfall freezes and the snow comes. Fallingwater suddenly becomes a white heaven. The seasonal change is an essential component of Fallingwater. The house is compromising the environment, and the environment is also compromising the house. It looks like that the house was grown from the ground.

Being hidden in a place surrounded by the forest, Fallingwater is calm and steady.


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