While making plans to visit friends in Pennsylvania, I inadvertently discovered that Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, was located about an hour and a half drive from where we were staying. Of course, it was a must see and we made reservations for the tour the day after our arrival! We were excited to embark on a new Frank Lloyd Wright adventure!
A number of years ago, Tom and I, with friends, made plans to travel to Wisconsin for the purpose of seeing some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and learning more about his Prairie School movement. As Feng Shui practitioners, my friend and I were interested in how his architecture might, or might not, relate to Feng Shui principles of living and working environments. Visiting Taliesin was the perfect initial immersion in world of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the beginning of what was to become our “Following Frank” road trips.
Our second Following Frank road trip found us driving to Mason City, Iowa to stay in the impressive Historic Park Inn Hotel, the only remaining designed and built Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the world.
The third in our Following Frank series found us traveling to Chicago by train to tour Oak Park, Ill, home to the largest collection of Wright-designed residential properties in the world, including Wright’s original home and studio from 1889 to 1909, the first 20 years of his career.
Born just two years after the end of the American Civil War, in Richland Center, Wisconsin (1867-1959) Wright was witness to the extraordinary changes that swept the world from the leisurely pace of the nineteenth-century horse and carriage to the remarkable speed of the twentieth-century rocket ship. He welcomed and embraced the social and technological changes made possible by the Industrial Revolution, unlike many of his contemporaries, and enthusiastically initiated his own architectural revolution. Dismissing the imported, historic European styles most Americans favored at the time, Wright’s goal was to create an architecture that addressed the individual physical, social, and spiritual needs of the modern American citizen.
Frank Lloyd Wright set the standards for what became known as the Prairie Style. These “prairie houses” reflected the long, low horizontal prairie on which they sat with low-pitched roofs, and deep overhangs; long rows of casement windows further emphasized the horizontal theme. The houses were generally built of brick, wood, and plaster, with stucco walls and had no attics or basements. Elaborate floor plans and detailing were discarded for flowing internal spaces organized around a central fireplace or hearth. Wright designed them to reach out to nature, not to other buildings.
The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built. Frank Lloyd Wright
And now, Tom and I were about to see what the Smithsonian magazine lists as one of the 28 places to see before you die! WOW!
And WOW it is! Fallingwater was the weekend house for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, owners of Kaufmann’s Department Store. The Kaufmanns were intrigued by Wright’s ideas, and knowing that Wright loved nature as much as they did, they asked him to design a new vacation house. Wright knew they loved the waterfall on the property and decided to make it part of the new house. “I want you to live with the waterfall, not just look at it.” he is said to have told Kaufmann, and so he cantilevered the home over the 30-foot waterfall!
The house was owned and used by the Kaufmann family until 1963, when Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. entrusted it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Fallingwater is the only major Wright-designed house to open to the public with its furnishings, artwork, and setting intact. We were not, however, allowed to take photos of the interior.
Wright described his architectural style as “organic” – in harmony with nature. This is in keeping with the Feng Shui principle that uses nature as the model. Fallingwater is very much engaged with its surroundings, in fact, it is an integral part of nature.
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. Frank Lloyd Wright
In the following interview, Alex Stark, a graduate of the Yale University School of Architecture and a practitioner of Feng Shui and European Geomancy, gives an interesting assessment of Fallingwater from a Feng Shui perspective in an intriguing article in which he was asked to assess the Feng Shui of five iconic houses of 20th-century architecture. Here is some of what Stark says about Wright and, specifically, Fallingwater:
“Wright clearly had an intuitive sense of the energies of nature, which are integral to Feng Shui. He wasn’t exposed to it as a practice, but Feng Shui is inherent in all of oriental art and architecture, which he studied. This house belies a very deep understanding of the energies proper to the earth, sky and nature. For Fallingwater, Wright anchored the house to a boulder, making a very deep connection to the earth. Also, the house’s central structural element is a vertical one that aims toward the sky. He cantilevered these beautiful terraces, allowing the home’s inhabitants to experience nature.
“Water is the fundamental metaphor of this structure. Water is amorphous, and Wright echoed the movement of water in the shifting planes of the house. In Feng Shui terms, water is one of the ways to attract prosperity–by having water at the front of the house, and, in addition, by making it approach the house from the left and then turn away from it and disappear underground. This is exactly what you perceive from the balconies of this house. In addition, the site faces south and is protected from the north by a rising slope. Taken together, these are basic criteria that support the success of a house on such a site. So Wright fulfilled a fundamental requirement for success.
“Overall, the house has a very beautiful balance of yin and yang. Wright intentionally brought the height of the ceilings down, creating a yin environment that is balanced by the brightness of the window openings. Everywhere in the house Wright worked yin-yang, both on the orthogonal axis and on the diagonal. On the ground floor, the vertical solid element of the hearth is positioned diagonally across the room from the open translucent element of the skylight and the staircase leading down to a wading pool below the house. On the other diagonal, Wright balanced the expansiveness of the back terrace with the enclosure of the entry.”
A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if Nature is manifest there. Frank Lloyd Wright
While I remain captivated by his architecture, I had yet to tour a Frank Lloyd Wright home I would want to live in – until Fallingwater. Other than the small bedrooms, which I would personally find challenging, I would be most happy to live with a waterfall!
As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. John Muir