In my second decade, as a student of commercial interior design, I was enraptured by my introduction to a house famous worldwide – the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Fallingwater’, built between 1936-39 for The Kaufmann family, owners of a very successful department store – now part of the Macy’s chain.
To a raw design recruit, with the altruism of youth – Lloyd Wright’s design seemed to blend Tolkein’s hobbit-inhabited landscape with Robert Heinlein’s futuristic world (my then favourite writer of science-fiction). A master in blending technology with sensibility toward nature, an attitude that uncannily predicted today’s design directions – Lloyd Wright’s work had a profound effect on my attitude to life as a whole. In design terms – anything seemed suddenly possible.
Spotting a series of small waterfalls locally, yesterday, near the banks of Loch Ken, 5 or so miles from Larglea, I was reminded of the feeling of shock and wonderment I first felt at the sight of Fallingwater.. which I’ve yet to see for real.
Here, I stepped from the road onto the mossy bank, finding space to plant my unsuitably shod feet amongst the undergrowth.. even the air drew to a stand-still. Only the sound of rushing, falling water told me it wasn’t a dream. I half-expected the cast of lord Of The Rings to burst from the forest above shouting “Let’s go hunt some Orc.”
The Kaumann’s son Edgar J. had studied with Lloyd-Wright at Taliesin West – his design school in Arizona.. and believed him to be the best architect for the job. While the Kaufmanns wished the design to provide views of the waterfalls (in the woods south of Pittsburgh on a property called Bear Run – where they owned a simple holiday cabin) Lloyd Wrights ultimate design …” sends out free-floating platforms audaciously over a small waterfall and anchors them in the natural rock”. The waterfall was UNDER the house.
“..Something of the prairie house is here still:…
(with) interlocking geometry of the planes and the flat, textureless surface of the main shelves. But the house is thoroughly fused with it’s site and, inside the rough stone walls and the flagged floors are of an elemental ruggedness.”
The interiors too were inspired by natural materials. While the design succeeded in visual terms, it led to some minor flaws and problems, such as persistent leaks. On the structural front – the owner feared the huge terraces were under supported and employed an engineer to insert large metal stabilising beams, to the architects disapproval. It is not possible to tell if later subsidence, and near collapse of some of the terraces, is the result of original design flaws, or that of the weight of the beams causing problems that may not otherwise have appeared.
These interiors, the massive windows, Lloyd Wright’s furniture designed for the house, his use of folding ceilings.. all served to inform and inspire students of all design gendres in homes, offices, public buildings.. even films.. in the 1970’s in particular.
With any one of myriad possibilities emerging in my future..I realise that the feeling of, and philosophy behind Fallingwater at least, still has me in it’s thrall.
Scotland’s landscape has been reaching out to me for much longer than I knew.
Much more information can be found simply by researching Fallingwater.
Sources for this post include:-
http://www.fallingwater.org What is Fallingwater?
Thanks to CNET News http://news.cnet.com
Daniel Terdiman August 12, 2010.
Report on Road Trip: Visiting Fallingwater.
Quote attributed to: Spiro Kostof. A History of Architecture, Settings and Rituals, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. p737.