AD Classics: Fallingwater House / Frank Lloyd Wright

© Robert Ruschak - Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
© Robert Ruschak - Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

In Mill Run, Pennsylvania in the Bear Run Nature Reserve where a stream flows at 1298 feet above sea level and suddenly breaks to fall at 30 feet, designed an extraordinary house known as Fallingwater that redefined the relationship between man, architecture, and nature. The house was built as a weekend home for owners Mr. Edgar Kaufmann, his wife, and their son, whom he developed a friendship with through their son who was studying at Wright’s school, the Taliesin Fellowship. The waterfall had been the family’s retreat for fifteen years and when they commissioned Wright to design the house they envisioned one across from the waterfall, so that they could have it in their view. Instead, Wright integrated the design of the house with the waterfall itself, placing it right on top of it to make it a part of the Kaufmanns’ lives.

More information, images, and a short video on Fallingwater after the break.

Wright’s admiration for Japanese architecture was important in his inspiration for this house, along with most of his work. Just like in Japanese architecture, Wright wanted to create harmony between man and nature, and his integration of the house with the waterfall was successful in doing so. The house was meant to compliment its site while still competing with the drama of the falls and their endless sounds of crashing water. The power of the falls is always felt, not visually but through sound, as the breaking water could constantly be heard throughout the entire house.

Wright revolved the design of the house around the fireplace, the hearth of the home which he considered to be the gathering place for the family. Here a rock cuts into the fireplace, physically bringing in the waterfall into the house. He also brings notice to this concept by dramatically extending the chimney upwards to make it the highest point on the exterior of the house.

© Lee Sandstead

Fallingwater consists of two parts: The main house of the clients which was built between 1936-1938, and the guest room which was completed in 1939. The original house contains simple rooms furnished by Wright himself, with an open living room and compact kitchen on the first floor, and three small bedrooms located on the second floor. The third floor was the location of the study and bedroom of Edgar Jr., the Kaufmann’s son.The rooms all relate towards the house’s natural surroundings, and the living room even has steps that lead directly into the water below. The circulation through the house consists of dark, narrow passageways, intended this way so that people experience a feeling of compression when compared to that of expansion the closer they get to the outdoors. The ceilings of the rooms are low, reaching only up to 6’4″ in some places, in order to direct the eye horizontally to look outside. The beauty of these spaces is found in their extensions towards nature, done with long cantilevered terraces. Shooting out at a series of right angles, the terraces add an element of sculpture to the houses aside from their function.

© Robert P. Ruschak - Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The terraces form a complex, overriding horizontal force with their protrusions that liberated space with their risen planes parallel to the ground. In order to support them, Wright worked with engineers Mendel Glickman and William Wesley Peters. Their solution was in the materials. The house took on “a definite masonry form” that related to the site, and for the terraces they decided on a reinforced-concrete structure. It was Wright’s first time working with concrete for residences and though at first he did not have much interest in the material, it had the flexibility to be cast into any shape, and when reinforced with it gained an extraordinary tensile strength.

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The exterior of Fallingwater enforces a strong horizontal pattern with the bricks and long terraces. The windows on the facade have also have a special condition where they open up at the corners, breaking the box of the house and opening it to the vast outdoors. The perfection of these details perfected the house itself, and even though the house tends to have structural problems that need constant maintenance due to its location, there is no question that Fallingwater, now a National Historic Landmark, is a work of genius. From its daring cantilevers to its corner window detail and constant sound of the waterfall, Fallingwater is the physical and spiritual occurence of man and architecture in harmony with nature. All you have to do is listen.

Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Location: Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Clients: Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Kaufmann
Engineers: Mendel Glickman and William Wesley Peters
Project Year: 1936-1939
Photographs: Depending on the photograph: On Flickr, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Keystone State Photographer, and Lee Sandstead, and
References: Hoffmann, Donald. Frank Lloyd Wright. Dover Pubns, 1993. Print. and
Knight, Caroline. Frank Lloyd Wright. Parragon Publishing, 2005. Print. and

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: Fallingwater House / Frank Lloyd Wright" 14 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    This is a beautiful piece of work…
    However after reading the summary, and though the house does allow the oocupants to interact with the water; I cant help but think I would really enjoy a good view of the falls versus being on top off them… I have never been there though and have no clue what the view is like..

    Has anyone been there that can shed some light….

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      I was just reading the website for falling water:

      “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.”

  2. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    i am curious… do the occupants use the water from the fall for shower, washing dishes, etc, too? do occupants have a functional relationship with the water, not just a sensory relationship?

    great project of course!

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      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    WIthout detracting from the significance of this design and the structure itself, we should reflect on the fact that such a thing could not be built in most parts of our country today. The urge to preserve coupled with nanny-state building codes and environmental regulations have stifled all urge to take risks such as those embodied in Fallingwater.

    Today, there is no shortage of property owners who would be willing to finance such a project and there is certainly a risk of failure in the more adventuresome projects. But the conditions and social spirit that resulted in this stunning work no longer exist.

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    Interesting trivia : Wright originally wanted all the concrete to be treated with gold-leaf, in order to reflect the tree canopy around, esp. during fall. However, given the year, the Kaufmanns were concerned about their safety : constructing a gold castle while the nation suffered through the Depression.

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    I visited Fallingwater about 10 years ago. While I was impressed with the form, the function didn’t always follow. As an example, because the lack of ventilation, the Kaufmann’s at times slept outside at night.

    Great video and amazing detail!

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    I grew up in Pittsburgh and have been to Fallingwater countless times and researched, written & taught about it. Presently, people who are on tour are not permitted to interact with the water/falls, but do have an opportunity to view the falls from the living room and various other perspectives within the house.

    Originally, however, the water was meant to be interacted with both literally and symbolically. There are also two contained plunge pools naturally fed from the creek in which Fallingwater volunteers/workers are permitted to take a dip once a yeear. Indoor plumbing was built into the house’s original structure, so there was water running to several bathrooms and kitchen. No need to bath under the falls, unless they wanted to.

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    I have to say that aside from the photos being stunning, I certainly love Frank Lloyds work! His architecture is amazing and to photograph it, even more amazing.

    The Falling Waterhouse is an awesome shot as well as home. I can’t say we have much of the same here in California.

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    I was suggested this website through my cousin. I am no longer certain whether this post is written by means of him as nobody else recognize such distinct about my trouble. You are amazing! Thank you!

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