Earlier this summer I sat down and wrote a list in my journal titled Things I’ve been meaning to do, but still haven’t… which included 16 goals that I wanted to accomplish some time during my life. This list included entries like “learn to ride a motorcycle,” “take guitar lessons,” “start my own business” and “visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.”
Last week I toured Fallingwater for the first time. I can’t even describe how excited I was. All the reading and architecture classes cannot compare to the real thing. It’s simply magnificent.
The week before, after a possible visit from my mom fell through, I decided on a whim to purchase a ticket to go see her (and my dad and sister) in Virginia instead. Growing up minutes from Washington, DC, I’ve seen the museums and monuments there hundreds of times. Then I remembered Fallingwater, and thanks to Google Maps, found out it was only a 3 1/2 hour drive from DC. Perfect.
From the visitor’s area, we walked the short 1/4 mile gravel trail to the home (during which I shivered with anicipatory goose bumps). Because my mom and dad, who are not very into arts or architecture, were with me this trip, I only purchased regular tour tickets, $16 per person, instead of the in-depth tour, $55 per person, that I would have liked to take. The in-depth is 2 hours and allows you to take indoor photos, which I was dying to do, but couldn’t. I choose the opening 10am tour thinking there would be fewer people, but now I realize the closing 5pm tour would have been better. By the time our tour was done and I could take outdoor photos, the place was not only swarming with tourists, but also with workmen, because it just so happens they were painting that week.
A little history: Fallingwater was designed in 1935 for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann (who also commisioned the famous architect, Richard Neutra, to design his “Desert House” in Palm Springs). The retreat was to be built in Mill Run, Pennsylvania in view of a waterfall that was on the property. Instead of facing the house towards the falls, like one would expect, Wright decided to place the house daringly above the falls while also incorporating the natural surrounding directly into the design. Striking features include a boulder that was left in place near the hearth, windows (including frameless corners) that opened out into the surrounding forest, flagstone flooring, cantilevered terraces, and stairs that lead directly from the building into the stream below.
The house itself was smaller than I expected, but still incredible. The bedrooms were small with Wright’s tendency for low ceilings, with a large open living/dining room. Despite the many visitors, it was easy to feel how secluded and peaceful such a place would have been to the Kaufmann’s and their visitors, a stunning combination of visual, functional and structural harmony.
Our tour guide’s name was Emma, who knew quite a bit of information. Unfortunately she had the absolute worst sing-songy voice. It drove me so crazy that I had to quit listening after the first couple of stops. She also made the funny mistake of calling the Wright reproduction furniture in the film room “faux-pas” furniture (when I’m sure she simply meant “faux” furniture). And she said it with all seriousness, the same way she delivered the rest of the tour. I didn’t have the heart to correct her and I don’t think anyone else did either.
The other funny (and slightly embarrassing) moment came at the very end of the tour. Throughout both the Kentuck Knob (more about that later) and Fallingwater tours my Dad asked several thoughtful and interesting questions when the tour guides failed to cover something he was curious about, such as how much of the original acreage was still intact today (which turns out to be the complete original 5000 acres). Right as we were parting, my Dad turned to ask Emma, in all seriousness, “Do the employees get to hunt on the property after hours?” despite the fact that he knew the property was entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Um, sorry dad, no hunting allowed.