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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

‘God is in the details’, a famous idiom utilized most recognizably by the architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, was probably also one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite sayings as well.  One of the most well-known architects of his era, Frank Lloyd Wright gained much of his fame from Fallingwater, a residence in Mill Run, PA, designed for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh.  I visited Fallingwater for the first time on this past rainy August Saturday, and gained a much better understanding of why this architect is held in such high regard.

 

The home, which was built in 1936, was very innovative for its time.  Wright utilized many sustainable methods of construction and chose materials that were local and easy to maintain.  He also employed the use of cantilevers, or deep overhanging patios without structure supporting them from below.  Frankie was also a marketer of his own architectural ideals, specifically what he called ‘organic architecture’, or the immersion of architecture with nature and the immediate surroundings.  For example, the boulders on which he built the home physically come through the walls and create the hearth of the fireplace.  His beliefs about the relationship between buildings and nature are profound; and speak to architects today when we consider site and context in our designs.

Of all of the remarkable qualities of this house; from the history of the wealthy family who lived there, the innovation in design and construction, and the architectural theory behind FLW’s designs; I was most impressed with the design of the architectural details throughout the home.  All of the materials were thoughtfully joined together with regard to their use and function.  Most of the windows turn the corners of the walls, where Wright removed the vertical mullion, or frame, to ultimately give an uninterrupted view of the surrounding nature. The casework in each of the studies and bedrooms functions as bookshelves, radiator covers, desks, and pedestals for light fixtures in one piece, minimalizing the need for a clutter of furniture.  Wright even carefully designed furniture and storage pieces himself so that the use of the spaces and the color and styles of anything in the rooms would work well functionally and aesthetically.  I remember learning about Frank Lloyd Wright’s tight control over the interior design when I was younger.  I assumed he did this simply because he was controlling in nature, or had an interest in furniture design.  After working in the profession for a small time, I can understand how important it is to consider all the elements of the building even after the walls are constructed.  If we design buildings so carefully to consider the circulation of the spaces, why not design the furniture that the client is circulating around!

Unlike most actual design projects, it seems Frank and the Kaufmanns had little concern with a construction schedule or budget, making it easy for him to focus on small details of the home.  However, I think all of the components of a building and how they are constructed are influential to the complete design of any structure.  The concept of the design should be seen through the way in which each part is carefully drawn and joined together, and therefore inform the whole.  The details of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater enforce his ultimate concept for the home.  I definitely recommend anyone (architect or otherwise) to visit the building and take note of where Frank puts his genius into the details.

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