What is Fallingwater?

Fallingwater is the name of a very special house that is built over a waterfall.  Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, designed the house for his clients, the Kaufmann family.  Fallingwater was built between 1936 and 1939.  It instantly became famous, and today it is a National Historic Landmark.

Why is it so famous?  It's a house that doesn’t even appear to stand on solid ground, but instead stretches out over a 30’ waterfall. It captured everyone’s imagination when it was on the cover of Time magazine in 1938.Kaufmanns on Bridge

The Kaufmanns were from Pittsburgh, PA. They owned Kaufmann’s Department Store, a very exciting and elegant place to shop in the 1930s.  (Today, it is part of the Macy’s chain). Edgar Kaufmann and his wife, Liliane, had one son, Edgar jr.

The Kaufmanns lived in the city, but like many other Pittsburghers, they loved to vacation in the mountains southeast of Pittsburgh. They could hike in the forest, swim and fish in the streams, go horseback riding, and do other outdoor activities.

Pittsburgh at the time was sometimes called the “Smoky City,” due to the amount of air pollution from Pittsburgh’s steel industry. People who could afford to take the train to the mountains ($1 round trip) relished the chance to breathe fresh, cool mountain air.

The Kaufmanns had a summer camp for the department store employees, located along a mountain stream called Bear Run. When the Great Depression made daily living so hard for so many people, the employees no longer had time or money to come up to Kaufmanns Summer Camp.  But Mr. and Mrs. Kaufmann and their son dearly loved the mountains, and decided to make the summer camp their own country estate.

Wright with HatTheir summer camp home had been a very small cabin with no heat and no running water. They slept outdoors on screened porches! The cabin stood very near a country road.  When traffic became noisy after the road was paved, the Kaufmanns decided it was time to build a more modern vacation house.

They turned to Frank Lloyd Wright to design it for them. At the time, their son was fascinated with Wright’s ideas and was even studying with  him at Wright’s school, the Taliesin Fellowship.

The Kaufmanns, who had recently become very interested in modern art and design, also were intrigued by Wright’s ideas, and they asked him to design a new vacation house. They knew that Wright loved nature, as they did, and Wright knew that the Kaufmanns wanted something very special at Bear Run, something only an innovative architect like himself could design.  He also knew that they loved the waterfall, and he decided to make it part of the new house.

When the Kaufmanns first looked at Wright’s drawings, they were very surprised! They thought their new house would have a wonderful view of the falls. But instead, with the house right on top of the falls, it was very difficult to even see them. But not to hear them! Frank Lloyd Wright told them that he wanted them to live with the waterfalls, to make them part of their everyday life, and not just to look at them now and then.

 

A set of scale drawings of the house were completed several years ago by L. D. Astorino, an architectural firm located in Pittsburgh.  These drawings provide a site plan, detail of each level of the house and the guest house and servant's quarters.  A set of these drawings is available for your use for school and other projects.  To download these in pdf format, click the link below.