In the middle of a dark forest and over a ravine, Frank Lloyd Wright built an architectural masterpiece: Fallingwater.
Like Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye or Mies Van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (1887-1959) is one of the icons of twentieth-century architecture. This amazing architectural object lost in the trees still fascinates, seventy years after its construction. Completely restored because, like Villa Savoye, it had suffered from its traditional construction, it is now open to the public by its owner, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Architects from all over the world go there in a quasi-pilgrimage, and for all architecture lovers, it is the rare and unforgettable spirit of a place of our time that is now accessible.
Modern, Wright was never a modernist. He despised, thinking very strongly of Le Corbusier and some others, "the cardboard houses", and added that "human houses should not be flamboyant boxes under the sun ... [but] an element of the ground, in sympathy with him, complementary to the natural environment ... ", which he illustrated at Fallingwater.
Like all great creations, this house has a story. Edgar Kaufmann Jr., the future curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (and one of the initiators of Good Design) had spent six months at the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright's Wisconsin-based community school-workshop. When in 1933 his father, Edgar Kaufmann Sr., owner of a prosperous department store in Pittsburgh, decided to build a weekend residence in a few hundred hectares of forest he had just bought in the superb Highlands area, his son urged him to appeal to Wright. He came to see the site, liked "the powerful sound of the waterfall, the vitality of this young forest, the outcrops and the spectacular rocky blocks ..." and proposed quite quickly the project as it was realized .
The construction of the main residence and the layout of the area lasted from 1934 to 1937, but the guest house was not completed until 1939. The Kaufmanns spent their weekends there and received a lot. Celebrities like Alvar Aalto, Philip Johnson, Walter Gropius, Albert Einstein, Marcel Breuer, the Moholy-Nagy enjoyed this house in the heart of nature.
After the war, Edgar Sr., still an architecture lover, had another Arizona home built, but by Richard Neutra this time. Edgar Jr. remained loyal until his death on the wonderful weekends of Bear Run, the enchanted ravine over which the house stretches.
Fallingwater can now be visited, when it is not isolated by the snow, because as Wright notes, it is a house "open to the adventure of the seasons". What strikes the most is its insertion in nature. It is not only open on the ravine, the waterfall and the forest, but penetrated by these elements. It seems to have been gently placed on rocks, which is not far from the truth since the large concrete trays are attached to a central core which alone is deeply anchored in the bedrock. The profusion of natural materials - from local stone to slatted floor walls - shows that nature was invited to the Kaufmann as they had invited themselves to this wild site.
The volumes are not huge, the ceilings are low to guide the eyes towards the trees, and the private rooms. Everything offers a feeling of protection reminiscent of the log cabins of the pioneers, a great reflection of the architect. Multiple terraces and access allowed to maintain its independence, even when the house was full of friends, who had also another residence, a little apart but connected to Fallingwater by a walkway. To visit the house on the waterfall today is to approach an aspect of the American psyche, that of relationships with the wild nature that Walt Whitman illustrated. A unique masterpiece, Fallingwater is in its own way an architectural poem, an ode to nature.