Plunging into Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece

Imagine if your home won the trifecta of architectural awards: selected for the cover of Time magazine; named “best all-time work of American architecture” by the American Institute of Architects; and listed in Smithsonian magazine’s “28 Places to Visit Before You Die.”

Then you can understand how Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann felt about Fallingwater, his Frank Lloyd Wright designed Allegheny Mountain retreat.

Considered by many to be Wright’s finest house design, when Fallingwater was completed in 1938 it broke all the traditional molds. The owner requested a home with a view of the falls and got a house built directly over the falls. And instead of sitting on the creekside bluff, it appears to grow out of the bedrock. 

Scores of books have been written about Frank Lloyd Wright and his architecture, and we won’t re-plow that ground. Suffice it to say that he was tired of the classical architectural influences that we inherited from Europe, and wanted designs that reflected American values, lifestyles, and landscapes.

Like all of FLW’s buildings, Fallingwater was designed as a cohesive whole. His design package included custom doors, windows, and light fixtures; bespoke built-in furniture; and natural landscaping that married the house surroundings to the interior of the structure.

What appeals to me most about Wright’s buildings are his open plans and the connections to the outdoors. The large expanses of glass, broad terraces, and ease of access to the outside create a natural link to the surroundings, which in the case of Fallingwater, is incredibly private and soothing. 

And to truly appreciate how innovative his houses were, just remember that Fallingwater was completed 1938. That’s before my time, but lots of my family lived in Pre-WWII houses that were nothing like this. 

As a groundbreaking icon in the world of architecture, Wright had strong opinions about his craft. He also had a reputation for being demanding and sometimes overbearing with others in his building projects. And there are stories of his disagreements with clients as well. But this is all part of the package when engaging with visionaries, and Wright certainly fit this mold. 

Guided tours of the interior are by reservation only and very popular, so it takes a bit of advance planning to visit. But if you have an interest in seeing some of the best work of one of America’s most well-known and influential architects make the trip to Bear Run Creek in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Happy Trails and Good Health,

James & Terri

Photo Credits: 24. Pittsburgh Magazine

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

23 thoughts

  1. Having seen Falling Waters many years ago, we have since been on the look out for other Wright buildings. That said, what is often overlooked in the brilliance of his design was that he was a horrible engineer — his buildings were often uncomfortable and even leaked! It often takes a huge amount of money to repair them. However, I would have loved to have owned one.

    1. Ray, this is what I was alluding to toward the end of the post when I said Wright had a reputation for being demanding and overbearing. I’m sure you heard the same story I did about the engineers saying the house couldn’t be built and would tumble into the creek.

      But for all its design flaws, and long-term structural issues, it’s still a marvel. I wouldn’t have wanted to pay the repair and retrofit bills, but it’s a complicated house sitting in what ultimately is a harsh environment for any building. And there’s no denying that it’s stood the test of time (with regular infusions of cash). ~James

  2. Gorgeous building. I love when architects use nature as the base and build around or within it. Gaudi was also very influenced by nature and it is evident in many of his buildings.

    1. You’re right Darlene. Around the turn of the century lots of creative types were fed up with the old, classical ways of doing things and Gaudi was out there leading the pack. I think these ideas were more prevalent in Europe than America, but FLW certainly was influenced by the trends of the day. ~James

  3. I visited Fallingwater many years ago, and I loved it. I’d love to go back. I also felt the home was designed for music, gatherings, writing and reading.

    1. “Music, gatherings, writing and reading,” perfectly put Betty. I know that I’ve seen a well-designed space when I can picture myself in that beautiful corner with a book or huddled around a fireplace with family and friends. Fallingwater had lots of spaces that brought these images to mind. ~James

  4. Near and dear to my heart! I grew up in the Laurel Highlands not far from Fallingwater, and we still have a mountain house nearby and are ongoing supporters of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, of which Fallingwater is a part. It is a unique and fascinating property with all the genius features and drawbacks that you describe!

    1. Lexie, the Laurel Highlands are a beautiful part of the world, and I’m sure that having a mountain house there must be delightful.

      Fallingwater is off the beaten path today, so I can imagine how isolated it must have been in 1938. And even with all the tourists, it still has a special, serene feel today. ~James

    1. Carol, Fallingwater is special for sure, but since we’ve become interested in FLW’s architecture, we’ve found it scattered all over the Midwest. Most aren’t as outstanding as Fallingwater, but they all have the Wright signature features, and some even still have pieces of his original furniture. ~James

  5. Gorgeous home. I think it might feel like living in a museum… We have gone on Frank Lloyd Wright tours here in Madison where there are several of the homes he designed, and to Taliesen east and west. His way of bringing light into the spaces he designed was illuminating and unique.

    1. Rebecca, we’ve toured a few FLW homes as well, and I have to say that Fallingwater fells the most homey and cozy of all we’ve seen. Luckily, it still had most of the original Wright furnishings as well as many of the things that belonged to the owners, so it felt “lived in.” The setting is fabulous, and I could see myself relaxing just about anywhere on the property. ~James

    1. Caroline, timeless isn’t a word I’d thought of, but you’re absolutely correct. This house fits perfectly in this location just as well today as it did in 1938. I wish I had thought of that to put in the post. 🙂 ~James

    1. That’s very neat Curt. I’m curious, where was her home located? We’ve seen a number of places in the Midwest, and I understand he also had a few in the southwest. I’m sure as a kid, Peggy didn’t give it a thought. ~James

    1. Laura, FLW was a visionary that’s for sure. However, when it came to his designs he was known to be very demanding, and frequently, even with owners it was “my way or the highway.” But, we’ve seen a number of his houses and Fallingwater, far and away, is our favorite. It really did take perfect advantage of an outstanding location, and most of that can be credited to Wright’s design. The next time you guys pass through this area it’s worth a stop. ~James

  6. My father worked in the Marin Civic Center, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last designs. Since the building was only a couple miles from our home, I used to ride my bike around the grounds and explore the beautiful open hallways, cafeteria and domed library. In the early 1990s, while I was living in Pennsylvania, I visited Falling Water, and remembered design elements that I was familiar with from my childhood. Thanks for highlighting this exceptional example of American design and for the lovely trip down memory lane.

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