ARGOMENTI DI ARCHITETTURA ISSN 1591-3171 N.6/2016
THE HOUSE ON THE WATERFALL
ABETI Maurizio (IT) e FIORE Pierfrancesco (IT)
Wright, Frank LIoyd, the greatest genius of modern architecture, American architect (Richland Center, Wisconsin 1867 – Phoenix, Arizona, 1959), in 1936, he built the famous Kaufmann house in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, better known as the «house of the waterfall» or «Falling Water».
The Kaufmann house is recognized as one of the most important works of Wright and rewarded in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the best American architecture of all time.” It is a supreme example of Wright’s organic architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature through the design so well integrated with her website that the construction, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified composition interconnected. Wrigth has embraced modern technology to achieve this goal: the design of living spaces that expresses architecturally the expansive freedom of the American frontier.
The «house of the waterfall» is located near a waterfall, on a creek called” Bear Run”, that runs through the verdant woods of western mountains of Pennsylvania.
Wright used it to get to the more pronounced form of its organic architecture and unlimited abilities and skills, not only the reinforced concrete iron and glass, but also local materials, such as stone, and despite the whole complex and articulated volumes at different levels, they are integrated, as stated above, harmoniously into the environment.
Of this work Bruno Zevi wrote, “it is a projection of the future in today’s world.”
1. Frank LIoyd Wright (biography and projects)
Norris Kelly Smith wrote: «Although the biblical thought has played a role of incalculable importance in shaping Western culture, only Wright has found an expression in the architectural field dominated almost exclusively, for two thousand years, from the greek-Roman tradition».
Wright, Frank LIoyd, the greatest genius of modern architecture, is an American architect (Richland Center, Wisconsin 1867 – Talisien West, Phoenix, Arizona 1959). In his youth (1888), and without completing his studies, he was found to participate actively in the framework of the only original school of American architecture and the study of its greatest exponent, Louis Henry Sullivan (Boston, September 3, 1856 – Chicago, 1924), in Chicago. In fact the influence of Sullivan (“Lieber Meister”, dreaming organic rhythms, he also rejected the impersonal form of the Greeks) and the Chicago School, of their message of cultural freedom, of their invitation to the autonomy of thought, is evident from Wright’s early works. This is usually of single-family houses, built not by copying the eclectic formulas then in vogue, but depending on the needs of a true organic architecture, like Sullivan’s thought, and according to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of domestic architecture: man’s approach to the earth, opening towards the external nature, choice of natural materials, adherence to man’s house, etc .. This approach was followed by Wright throughout his long but not always successful career, and also through the beginning of the architectural language changes.
After years of training (about 1888-1900), during which, however, it is clearly developing his artistic personality, Wright begins perhaps the most intense period of his full maturity: the celebrated “Prairie Houses” (Prairie houses) go roughly 1900 to 1910, and are characterized by an extreme internal spatial freedom, in particular as regards the organization of the rooms, and a very personal formal language (protruding roofs, long continuous horizontal windows, etc.); we remember only a few: Willits house in Highland Park, Illinois (1902) (Fig. 1); Martin house in Buffalo, New York (1904); Robie House in Chicago (1909) (Fig. 2); which is the masterpiece of the “Prairie Houses”, even the furniture was entirely designed by Wright. Of the same period are also larger buildings: the Larkin office in Buffalo, New York (1904), the Unity Church in Oak Park, Illinois (1906) and Midway Gardens in Chicago (1913), very demanding work that precise language “expressionist Wright” between plastic and pictorial, and who significantly influenced his later production, starting from the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1916 – 1922) is considered one of his major works. The following period is seemingly less busy. In fact, with the Millard House in Pasadena, California (1923) (Fig. 3), Wright began a series of buildings in which applied a modular system of prefabricated concrete blocks, with not so much structural value as decorative, resuming formal reasons already tempted in Midway Gardens, and it was also dedicated to an utopian project ambitiously with “Usonian Houses” (Case usoniane, is the term created by Wrigth to explain that in his projects it was to qualify as exactly north American architecture, based on the US life model and part of the natural landscape of the United States) in which he tried to join technical and formal qualities with a low cost, by identifying and anticipating what would be the most important issue in American society after the war. Finally, in 1934 there was the project for Broadacre City (project for a “free city”) which developed organically Wright’s urban concepts of integrating them with the architectural advances of the “Usonian Houses”.
But Wright’s ideas were too advanced for the American society, and therefore those were years of relative inactivity and unrealized projects; until 1936, when he built the famous house Kauftnann in Bear Run, Pennsylvania (which we will see later) better known as the “home of the waterfall” “Fallingwater” in which he used cement and achieved a result of exceptional structural boldness, and he began the work for the building of the company’s SC Johnson & Son offices, in Racine, Wisconsin, 1936 – 1939, generally considered his masterpieces. The Johnson & Son Administration Building anticipates the elusive volumes and surfaces in what will be the architectural solutions of the late maturity. The first fully air conditioned building and one of the first to consider a design to accommodate the division of areas of work. In the interior, taking up the spatial conceptions of Larkin offices, aesthetically it solves a static problem with tall mushroom (or “umbrella”) columns that support the glazing roof designed according to his usual decorative spirit. Finally, in 1938, he also realized , near Phoenix, Arizona, the Taliesin West complex in the Valley. Conceived out of any language etymology and from every social convention: home, office, workshop, school, according to his concepts of life “pioneering American” and with the internal spatial freedom, and decorative forms his own.
The period following the Second World War is that of the late maturity, and extraordinarily fruitful. Wright re-elaborates some formal principles already studied in previous projects. In 1955 realizes the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, his only skyscraper of 19 floors; in 1956 – 1959, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (Fig. 4) the most important of the twentieth century architecture; in 1956 begins the design of the civic center of Marin County, California, completed in 1960-1963 by his students.
And in the last years of his life there are the many stunning designs that fully open leave the intellectual and moral legacy of Wright. First of all the project for the “Milc High Skyscraper”, the tallest skyscraper a mile, a real sign of confidence in the future of architecture.
Wright’s work was that of an artist who has always acted according to his conscience and not according to current tastes. His work was known in Europe since 1910 and aroused great interest, but remained virtually unknown in the U.S.A., where Wright had neither honors nor recognition. His signature was not only that of an avant-garde architect, but that of a master of the modern movement. Wright is certainly the greatest American architect and not only of his generation, and he is considered among the greatest architects of the XX century. But his legacy, however, is too personal to be followed by a school or an architectural movement, despite the many students who followed him and imitated around the world.
2. The house on the waterfall «falling water»
«Mèta of a thousand-years journey through the evil, very slow stages with unprecedented efforts, the architecture has conquered matter, then the tangible volume, then, winning ancestral terrors, found the space initially separating it from the outside world, later opening to landscape, and only at the end of building and integrating nature as part of general magnetic field, the Kaufmann House in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, the 1936 – 1939 marks the poetic climax of the organic method and the maximum peak reached of creative freedom.».
The house Kaufmann (Fig. 5) better known as «home of the waterfall» or «Falling water House» is recognized as one of the most important works of Wright, and rewarded in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the best American architecture of all time”. It is a supreme example of Wright’s organic architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature through design (Fig. 6) so well integrated with her website, that the construction, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified composition interconnected. Wright has embraced modern technology to achieve this goal: the design of living spaces that expresses architecturally the expansive freedom of the American frontier.
The «Falling water House» designed and built in 1936 – 1939 for Edgar J. Kaufmann (a wealthy and successful businessman of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.), as a holiday home, is more than a museum piece of modern architecture –The Kaufmann owners have lived there until 1963 and then donated the building to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which has opened to the public as a museum-, in that provides a summary of the romantic tradition of architecture of the nineteenth century dwelling, linked to the severe geometry of abstract art of the twentieth century and structural daring of the two thousand architectures, and it is perhaps the only work in which Wright has accepted some elements of the rationalist language.
The triumphant enthusiasm with which the concrete balconies of the house and imitate together challenge the horizontal beds of the river rock on which the building is built is accompanied by an intricate network of horizontal elements (the terraces of stone slabs) and vertical composition (the partition walls) that recall the intertwined forms of de Stijl (Fig. 7). Renato De Fusco wrote: «… the asymmetry of the bodies, the volume offsetting and plans respond yes to a will to conform figuratively, but also reflect, adapt and enhance the organic disorder to the very nature of the place; indeed it can be said that the house translates into artifice the wild strength of these rocks and streams. Yet the results without any camouflage connection…. ».
The severe and artificial lines of «Falling water» mingle with the lines of the landscape, in a balance between a created habitat and a natural habitat, and suggest, in their integrated nature, the villa concept as an extension of the landscape, rather than the intrusion. From this point of view organic, it is recognizable as an extreme consequence of the principles of the romantic naturalism of Andrew Jackson Downing (1815 – 1852, one of America’s landscape architects), a century old, but applied with a creative intuition and a totally different character. Bruno Zevi wrote: «The spatial motion overwhelms waterfall, gorge, walls glassy ribbons, hovering on the scale of river currents, masses of trees and rocks in the most vital and miraculous continuum of human history.» (Fig. 8).
The «home of the waterfall» is located near a waterfall on a creek called “Bear Run” that runs through the verdant woods of western mountains of Pennsylvania.
Wright used it to get to the more pronounced form of its organic architecture, and unlimited abilities and skills, not only the reinforced concrete, iron and glass, but also simple local materials such as stone, and despite the whole volume of complex and articulated at different levels is integrated, as stated above, harmoniously into the environment.
The architectural work is organized on three levels, connected by stairs and protruding terraces that join as storage levels a central core (the main span of the stay) directly clinging to the rock.
From the bridge of access (Fig. 9), opening the scenery of the terraces projected on the crevice of the waterfall, with a strong sense of connection to the place. Far from any notion of regular and symmetrical façade, vertical baffles, locally rough stone, slabs and horizontal balconies, create this indicated perfect harmony with the surrounding environment (Fig. 10). Turning left, the narrow road between the escarpment and the cement worked opens the entrance to the villa (Fig. 11). Entering the house you are living the temporal experience of the space lived and stretched in every direction, such as to develop at every point of the living area the awareness of what is happening inside and out. Continuity indescribable! Highlighted even more by the polished stone floor, which recalls the wet stone of the stream; developed by the windows shall bring see the changes of nature, and the big natural rock block – the Kaufmann used it to take the sun- which is incorporated in the house in front of the fireplace (Fig. 12). The “core” of the house, as stated Wright, whose spatial centrality (not geometric) becomes the axis around which revolves the whole building: the north stairway to upper levels, to the south the large living area, east entrance to the west the kitchen; and so all upper floors, four bedrooms, all with their own bathrooms and terraces.
A house designed for living, intimate and informal, where the main living area with its spaces, away in the back and open to the flow of the size of the wooded valley, driving the eyes, thanks to the low ceilings, outward, towards nature (Fig. 13). A balanced environment arranged around him in various areas in a spirit of spatial continuity. Spirit that is repeated across the built environment: horizontal paths, vertical paths, rooms (Fig. 14 and Fig. 15), terraces, walls, materials, even the furnishings, are projected towards nature and the surrounding context of which manage to creatively capture lights, sounds, smells (Fig. 16).
Donald Hoffman, in its publication of 1993, wrote: «The paths inside the house, the rooms and passages stretch snaking in a shapeless, without urgency … The ability to be in company and privacy are both insured, as well as the comfort of the house and the adventures offered by the seasons. In this way, the inhabitants feel pampered and can relax and explore the joys of life in nature.».
Finally, attached to it and realized two years later, the house guests (Fig.17 and Fig. 18), which is accessed from the covered structure, through the access to the driveway, and that connects to a bus shelter in terraced steps of semi-circular shape of the hill recall and the path of the waterfall (Fi g. 19).
Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece continues to link human life, architectural form and nature, and as Bruno Zevi said, “it is a projection of the future in today’s world.”.
 Smith N. K., Wright Frank Lioyd: A study in architectural content – A Spectrum book, Editor Prentice – Hall, Edizion 1°, New Jersey, 1966, p. 52.
 Zevi B., Spaces of the modern architecture, sector VIII. Tradition modern and first rationalism in States, FrankLloyd Wright, United, Publisher Giulio Einaudi, second edition, Turin, 1973, p.462.
 De Fusco R., History of Contemporary Architecture, Laterza Editor, Rome, 1988. Roma, p. 315.
 Zevi B., Spaces of the modern architecture, sector VIII. Tradition modern and first rationalism in States, Frank
Lloyd Wright,United, Publisher Giulio Einaudi, second edition, Turin, 1973, p.462.
 Hoffman D., Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the House and its History (second edizion), Dover Publications, New York, 1993, pp.11-25.
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(The photos from n.5 to n.19 ©abeti-fiore)