What is Fallingwater?

Mary McMahon

Fallingwater is a famous home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a prominent American architect. The most distinctive feature of Fallingwater is probably its setting; the home is situated directly over a waterfall, incorporating the waterfall and surrounding Bear Run River into its architectural look. This home is justifiably famous, and visitors from all over the world come to look at it every year. Not only is Fallingwater itself quite stunning, but the home ushered in a new aesthetic in American architecture, and numerous homes owe their inspiration to Fallingwater's innovative and daring design.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The home was commissioned in 1935 by Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., a Pittsburgh department store magnate. Kaufman Junior had studied briefly with Frank Lloyd Wright, and undoubtedly he suggested Wright as an architect for the family's land a few hours outside of Pittsburgh. When Wright visited the spot and proposed building directly over the waterfall, the plan was accepted almost without demur. Construction was finished in the late 1930s, and the Edgar J. Kaufman Sr. Residence included space for servants, guests, and four cars in addition to the main living quarters by the time it was completed.

Fallingwater is executed in concrete and stone, with stunning cantilevered balconies which project out over the waterfall. The river also feeds a small swimming pool, and it is very much a part of the house. Visitors often comment on the fact that the house feels like part of the landscape, and the sound of water often fills Fallingwater, especially during periods of heavy snowmelt. The design of the house is meant to mimic that of the land around it, with angles and balconies which are meant to integrate it organically into the existing natural landscape.

The design of Fallingwater very much encourages interaction in the public areas of the home, and it is meant to promote contemplation and enjoyment of nature. The home is situated on beautifully kept grounds which integrate a number of native plants, making it fit in very well with the landscape of the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania. The home is open for public tours for much of the year; it is run by a conservancy which maintains it to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy it.

The nature-friendly architecture of Fallingwater set a bar in the 1930s, creating a demand for architecture which was seamlessly integrated with its landscape. Many fine homes built since include features from Fallingwater, turning them into peaceful nature retreats to be enjoyed by their owners and visitors.

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Discussion Comments


I visited Fallingwater in the winter season around Christmas time. It was spectacular. I think though that at different times of the year, one would experience Fallingwater differently, equally spectacular, just different. We were told by our tour guide that the Kaufman's were so good to their housekeepers, that they hired other help from the community to clean their helpers' quarters.

The house is really part of the environment. For example, there is a boulder in the living room around which the fireplace was built. Everything in the house has a place, and every detail was considered. It really is a remarkable place.

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