In the toe of my wife’s Christmas stocking this year, I nestled a small gift to help her sleep. It’s a travel version of one of those sound machines, where you can dial up anything from rain to ocean waves to lull you off to Never Never Land. You can even mimic a waterfall, which would be my personal choice. After all, it’s the same sound the Kaufmann family enjoyed for years at their stunning retreat in the Pennsylvania forest, southeast of Pittsburgh. Seeing this famous house is an entry on my bucket list. Yes, one of these days I will make the trek to Fallingwater.
If you’re old enough to remember, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, you know the song’s about more than just apple trees and honey bees. It’s about “perfect harmony”, which is how anyone would describe Fallingwater. This beautiful structure is exactly as named: a house on top of a waterfall. It is considered one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest achievements. The design is a melding of interior and exterior spaces, a principle borrowed from the Japanese. Fallingwater is a building, yes, but it’s more often described as “… harmony between man and nature”.
If you know anything about Wright, you know he was an eccentric architect. When the Kaufmann’s called to stop by his studio for a progress report, Wright hadn’t even begun the drawings. Yet by the time they arrived two hours later, Wright had completed the entire design. This production under pressure reminds me of author Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel written in just nine days and considered one of Bradbury’s greatest works.
The genius of Fallingwater’s design is in the details, or perhaps the lack of them. The house is constructed of reinforced concrete, stone, and glass. Its interior spaces are small and dark, encouraging more time spent outdoors. The sound of water can be heard everywhere, whether from the stream and waterfall below or from the natural spring allowed to drip along one of the hallways. Fallingwater’s distinctive cantilevered terraces are meant to resemble nearby rock formations, extending in every direction to the forested surroundings. Its dramatic perch on top of the waterfall is hidden from the approach to the house, lending to a sense of modesty.
Fallingwater brings the outdoors in wherever possible, and its best example may be a ledge-shaped rock in the living room, left undisturbed in its original location. The surrounding stone floor is waxed while the ledge is left plain and dull, creating the look of a rock protruding from a stream. A stair descends from the same room, several steps down to a platform whose function is to simply admire the stream. From photos, you’d believe Fallingwater was constructed entirely offsite and dropped gently within the forest by pushing aside a few tree branches.
Today, Fallingwater is a National Historic Landmark. You can tour the house and grounds with the purchase of a ticket at the visitor’s information website. If I were to visit, it’d be a ten-hour drive from where I live. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. Instead, I will build Fallingwater; literally. It is a model in the LEGO Architecture series and I am lucky to own a copy. As I tell my family, there are only two LEGO models I’ve ever wanted to build: the Grand Piano (completed last year and blogged about here), and Fallingwater. It’s a new year and it’s time to get started.
I’ll bring you along for the ride as my miniature Fallingwater takes shape in my home office. You can look for updates at the end of the next several posts. Eight hundred pieces from now, when all is said and done, I may borrow that little sleep aid I gave my wife for Christmas. After all, no house built on top of a waterfall would be complete without the sounds to go with it. Remember, we’re talking (er, singing) about perfect harmony here.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.