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First of all it has an incredibly bold "big idea". The idea of cantilevering the building off of the rock formations and hanging it out over the waterfall so that the house is part of the waterfall instead of just looking at it is both innovative and brilliant. In order to achieve this a technical "tour de force" was created. Another aspect of the siting which is underappreciated until you see it firsthand is the approach to the building. One walks along the original automobile drive which curves through the lush forested setting. The drive curves to a close in view corridor that creates an incredible vista of the house with the bridge in the foreground. In person this view of the building is more impressive than the classic Hedrich Blessing view of the house hovering over the waterfall. You also see the stepping action of the building's section as it steps up with the hillside. This stepping motif repeats elsewhere in the design. The drive takes you around back to a wonderful space that is created by the house and a vertical rock formation. The wall of the house uses a wonderful local field stone that resonates with the stone rock formation. In plan the stepping motif is reintroduced here.
One enters the house after passing underneath concrete trellis that will repeat on the waterfall side of the house. Using an idea that originally appeared at his home and studio the trellis is built around two live trees. One enters into a receiving room that conceptually originated with FLW's Prairie Houses forty years earlier. A short flight of stairs takes you up to the main level of the house. The living room is an unbelievable space for many reasons. First of all the sound of the waterfall resonates throughout the space. One is reintroduced to the stone of the site, by a stone formation that rises up through the stone floor at the fireplace. Ribbon windows with a variety of patterns introduce daylight and offer views to the lush setting. A stair cascades down to the water below so that you come in first hand contact with the stream. The glass enclosure gives you views right down to the stream so that you can see exactly where you are. The fireplace has a wonderful steel sphere that never worked as intended but works well as a sculpture against the stone of the fireplace. The stepping motif again repeats itself at the other side of the fireplace.
The incredible architectural energy extends throughout the rest of the house. The bedrooms and designed in an incredibly skillful and architecturally rich manner that far exceeds his more straightforward Prairie House bedrooms. What is particularly special is the way that FLW now embraces asymmetry in these bedrooms. This is especially interesting with the built in head boards and night stands.
What I found fascinating are the many Prairie House ideas and concepts that FLW used here. The blend of his Prairie School aesthetic with the new freedom of the International Style resonates throughout the house to create an architecture that is incredibly innovative, warm, and appropriate. Prairie House concepts include semi-pinwheel massing which creates a wonderful implied outdoor space. The concealed entry and the processional experience. The hearth as the center of the house. The honest use of materials. Banding of interior shelves to display artwork and bric brac. Built-in furniture. Terraces. Stairs wrapping screen elements. Integration of lighting and mechanical systems into the architecture. Built-in millwork for storage as opposed to closets. In general the detailing vaguely recalls the prairie Houses. With the influence of the international style FLW pushes his kit of parts acquired and developed over decades to a new architectural expression.
The house is also noteworthy because it is one of the few FLW buildings fully intact with the original site, building, furniture, artwork, and personal furnishings.
Where the design falls slightly short is design of the building housing the guest quarters, servants, and cars. This building looses some of the architectural richness of the house itself.
All of this contributes to the greatest architectural work in world history.
St Peter's Basilica
St Paul's Cathedral - London
Empire State Building
US Capital Building
Salk Institute by Louis Kahn.
Saynatsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto.
First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkely by Bernard Maybeck.
Villa Savoy by Le Corbusier.
Exeter Library by Louis Kahn.
Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Crane Library by H.H. Richardson.
Kaufman House by Richard Neutra.
Tredyffrin Public Library by Mitchell/Giurgola.
Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe.
Jubilee Church by Richard Meier.
Padre Pio Pilgramage Church by Renzo Piano.
The coomon denominator in all of these great buildings is the incredible fit between the architecture and the program. They all have a compelling sense of appropriateness.
More to be added later.
I think the story of the mad drawing session, from nothing except ideas, in the time it took Edgar to drive to the studio, coupled with the radical construction, and even the errors when pouring the main floor slab (forgetting to allow for deflection, something which bugged Kaufmann his whole life) all combine to make it the greatest building ever.
The story of the design and construction alone is epic, without even beginning to discuss its impact over the years.
So yeah, I think it possibly is.
The only problem is, when discussing "greatest", it always needs ot be qaulified in some way. "Greatest dwelling", or "greatest influence", or "Most recoignised" - all these things are easier to find, than simply "the greatest". That is an entirely open ended question.
*Plotting to take over the world since 1965
One aspect of Fallingwater misunderstood is its similarity to the modernists, due only to the apparent "white" terraces. This is totally untrue. Although the clean exterior lines and daring cantilevers are "modern", the interiors actually reveal the familiar, consistent attention to detailing found in all of Wright's work; absent and deemed "Wrong" by the modernists. By "out-moderning" the modernists, while at the same time infusing the house with his unique elements, Wright made Fallingwater the icon it has deservedly become.
Still, I think Taliesin is more important. Broken record time: Taliesin 1 was the original complete manifestation of house, site, and program, as opposed to the experimental laboratory and amalgamation Taliesin eventually became.
James Cutler and Ricardo Legoretta are two of the best site specific/original thinkers. The only context of mentioning St. Peter's/FLLW, is that Michaelangelo, like Frank, pushed into the unknown: He could not structurally engineer the dome with stone, so a huge chain is holding it in compression. Kind of like the steel flitches holding up the wooden carports!
Based solely upon the buildings I have had the priviledge to experience, I would include in that discussion, in no particular order along with Fallingwater, the Pantheon and the Colisseum in Rome, Unity Temple, the Kaufmann residence in Palm Springs, and last but certainly not least, Thorncrown Chapel by Fay Jones in Arkansas.
While not quite worthy of this discussion, I would also like to make mention of another spectacular place of worship that I feel is often overlooked, the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona. Along those lines, the central worship space within the Unitarian Meeting House is worth mentioning as well.
Remember, this list is based entirely on those structures I have seen in person. With that said, I look forward to reaction and comments.
Ste. Chapelle, a small Gothic church in Paris, also deserves mention. Another that hasn't come up is Schindler's Lovell beach house.
Fallingwater stays at the top, though.