Tuesday, November 30, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #12 - Fallingwater

Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright, Designed 1935, Built 1936-39

Good grief! Where do you start? Entire books have been published about this magnificent work of architectural genius. Wright was a born architect and never strayed from his course, even when he had hard times (which he did - boy, oh boy, did he ever). He was a singleminded man, designing, building, and teaching. Any city around the country that has a building of his design touts it. But Fallingwater is one of his iconic works (alongside the Guggenheim in New York City in this blogger's humble opinion).

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959 - he lived to the ripe old age of 91!) was born and raised in Wisconsin. From an early age, he had an interest in architecture. His architectural apprenticeship was in the firm of the famous Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, who is considered to be one of the fathers of modern architecture. Their working relationship came to an end when Sullivan found out Wright was working on commissions outside the contractual agreement they had for his employment. Wright went out on his own and designed houses in the Chicago area. He developed a new style of architecture known as the Prairie Style. Prairie Style homes have these features: low-pitched roof, overhanging eaves, horizontal lines, central chimney, open floor plan and clerestory windows.

He might have been a great architect, but he would have been on the front cover of the gossip magazines because he created a scandal when he left his wife for the wife of one of his clients and then proceeded to travel around Europe with her. This kind of behavior almost destroyed his career, but his talent compensated for his lack of a moral compass, and he kept getting work. He built a home and studio for himself and his lover Mamah Cheney, Taliesin, but karma caught up with him. In 1914 an unhappy butler set fire to the house when Wright was working in Chicago and seven people were killed, including Mamah and two of her children.

Wright married twice more, but by 1928 he was deeply in debt. His last wife, Olgivanna proved to be an important partner in helping him get his life back together. She helped him create a school at Taliesin (which is still in existence today), and for $650 per year, architecture students could come live, study and assist Wright. It was one his student's parents that commissioned Fallingwater. This project restored his architectural reputation and led him back into the fame and fortune arena. It became his most famous residential project and to this day is a marvel in design and beauty. Not only did he establish a unique American school of architecture, he also left more than 400 buildings behind that he designed.

Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., the son of a successful department store owner in Pittsburgh, became a fellow at Taliesin, met Wright, and found they shared an interest in designing model communities. Their relationship led to the commission of this home on a plot of land that had been a summer camp for the employee's of Kaufmann's department store, Bear Run. Vacation time became a big luxury for the employees, and Kaufmann and his wife decided to build their own vacation home on the site. They told Wright they wanted their home to have a view of waterfall, but did not expect him to build the house into the falls! This was an extremely radical idea and the engineers he worked with thought he was nuts. But like many artists tied to their vision, Wright prevailed and the work proceeded. In the end, there were some structural problems with the design, but Fallingwater is a major tourist attraction for Pennsylvania and I for one want to see it!!

Interior of Fallingwater

One of the important factors of Prairie Style, and the reason for the open, horizontal design, is to incorporate the building into the landscape that surrounds it. Fallingwater is the ultimate example of this aesthetic goal. The house is built over a 30 foot waterfall, magically rising above the stone and water and it looks as though it is floating. This floating appearance is a result of the cantilevered blocks of concrete (supported only on one end). These cantilevered blocks also create a strong horizontal line in the design of the house. Vertical elements, chimneys and mullions (window dividers), are also worked into the design, and are built of local stone. The vertical line contrasts with the strong horizontal nature of the cantilevers, but using stone as the material keeps it visually connected to the surrounding stone of the landscape. Open spaces and glass keep it light and integrate the inside and outside spaces in a natural way. It is truly a beautiful and magical place.

Frank Lloyd Wright

4 comments:

Girl With Chalk said...

I've been to the Hollyhock house in Hollywood, it's pretty fascinating too!

Coach Outlet said...

That environment is very good,the green trees and the water...ya

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