As promised in my previous post, its time to tell you about the next stop on my trip – a small town in south west Pennsylvania called Farmington. Although not particularly famous for anything really, Farmington is one of the towns closest to my all time favourite building…Frank Lloyd-Wright’s “Fallingwater” – also known as the Kaufmann House.
It is a beautiful home built between 1936 and 1939, over the top of a waterfall and river called Bear Run. Just the mere glimpse of it through the trees reduced me to tears! I’ve read a lot about the building and seen lots of photos, and to be there in person did not disappoint.
Built for Edgar and Lillian Kaufmann – owners of Kaufmann’s (later Macy’s) department stores – the house is built over three levels from just four materials – locally quarried sandstone, concrete, steel and glass. It is a perfect example and perhaps the pinnacle of Lloyd-Wright’s “organic architecture” style – where buildings and nature blend into one.
There is also a separate guest house built further up the slope – which includes its own spring water filled pool. During the time the Kaufmann family owned it, their guests at the house included Frida Kahlo and Albert Einstein – both friends of the Kaufmanns.
Huge reinforced concrete elements cantilever over the falls, supported by the rest of the house which is fixed into the bedrock in the side of the slope. Inside, the house feels in parts like walking through a cave, with its low ceilings and exposed sandstone walls and floors. But then rooms open out into large expanses with ceilings raised, and beyond onto huge open air terraces with the sound of the rushing falls below.
Architect or not – Fallingwater really is a breathtaking house. We are fortunate that the Kaufmann’s son, Edgar Jr donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. The following year it was opened up for the public and now sees more than 120,000 visitors pass through it each year. In 1966 it was designated a “National Historic Landmark” and in 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects named it “the best all-time work of American architecture”.
I would take that one step further. I believe it to be the best all-time work of architecture.