Essential Architecture- the North East

Kaufmann Residence (Fallingwater)


Frank Lloyd Wright


 Bear Run, PA




Prairie School


cantilevered reinforced concrete


Fallingwater, also known as the Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. Residence, is a house designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and part of the Pittsburgh Metro Area. The house was built partly over a waterfall in Bear Run at Rural Route 1 in Mill Run, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in the Laurel Highlands of the Allegheny Mountains.

 Kaufmann family
Edgar Kaufmann Sr. was a successful Pittsburgh businessman and founder of Kaufmann's Department Store. His son, Edgar Kaufmann, jr., studied architecture under Wright briefly. The Kaufmanns owned some property outside Pittsburgh with a waterfall and some cabins. When the cabins at their camp had deteriorated to the point that something had to be rebuilt, Mr. Kaufmann contacted Wright.

Initially, the Kaufmanns assumed the idea of Wright designing a house that would overlook the waterfall. Wright asked for a survey of the area around the waterfall, which was performed by Fayette Engineering Company of Uniontown, PA and included all of the boulders, trees and topography. They were unprepared to hear Wright's suggestion to build a house positioned over a waterfall.[1] Fallingwater was the family's weekend home from 1937 to 1963.

Fallingwater (The Kaufmann House) is now a museum. Since 1964, when it opened to the public, nearly four million have visited the house (as of July 2006).


The strong horizontal and vertical lines are a distinctive feature of Fallingwater.Wright adapted the vocabulary of International Modernism—a usually stark and ordered variety used in public buildings—for this organically designed private residence intended to be a nature retreat. The house is well-known for its connection to the site: it is built on top of an active waterfall which flows beneath the house. The fireplace hearth in the living room is composed of boulders found on the site and upon which the house was built - one set of boulders which was left in place protrudes slightly through the living room floor. Wright had initially intended that these boulders would be cut flush with the floor, but this had been one of the Kaufmann family's favorite sunning spots, so Mr. Kaufmann insisted that it be left as it was. The stone floors are waxed, while the hearth is left plain, giving the impression of dry rocks protruding from a stream.

The active stream (which can be heard constantly throughout the house), immediate surroundings, and locally quarried stone walls and cantilevered terraces (resembling the nearby rock formations) are meant to be in unison, in line with Wright's interest in making buildings that were more "organic" and which thus seemed to be more engaged with their surroundings. Although the waterfall can be heard throughout the house, it can't be seen without going outside. The design incorporates broad expanses of windows and the balconies are off main rooms giving a sense of the closeness of the surroundings. There is also an interior staircase leading down from the living room allowing direct access to the stream beneath the house.

Wright's views of what would be the main door have been argued about, still the door Wright considered the main door is tucked away in a corner & is rather small. Wright's idea of the grand facade for this house is from the perspective of all the famous pictures of the house, looking up from downstream, viewing the opposite corner from the main door.

On the hillside above the main house is a garage, servants' quarters, and a guest bedroom. This attached outbuilding was built using the same quality of materials and attention to detail as the main house.

 Structural problems

Fallingwater's structural system includes a series of bold reinforced concrete cantilevered balconies. However, the house had problems from the beginning. Pronounced sags were noticed immediately with both of the prominent balconies—the living room and the second floor.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy conducted an intensive program to preserve and restore Fallingwater. The structural work was completed in 2002. This involved an intensive study of the original design documents, observing and modeling the structure's behaviour, then developing and implementing a repair plan.

While Wright had been ruminating on the architectural design for months (Toker 2003), results of the study indicated that the original structural design and plan preparation had been rushed and the cantilevers had significantly inadequate reinforcement. As originally designed the cantilevers would not have held their own weight (Feldman 2005).

The contractor, also an engineer, produced independent computations and argued for increasing the reinforcement. Wright rebuffed the contractor and Kaufmann took Wright's advice. Wright's team did not update their design. Nevertheless, the contractor quietly doubled the amount of reinforcement in these (Feldman 2005). Even this was not enough, but likely prevented the structure's collapse.

The 2002 repair scheme involved temporarily supporting the structure; careful, selective, removal of the floor; post-tensioning the cantilevers underneath the floor; then restoring the finished floor (Feldman 2005).

Given the humid environment directly over running water, the house also had mold problems. The senior Mr. Kaufmann called Fallingwater "a seven-bucket building" for its leaks, and nicknamed it "Rising Mildew" (Brand 1995).

Despite these problems, Fallingwater is widely considered a master's masterpiece.

 Popular culture
Fallingwater has attracted many celebrity visitors over the years, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who chose the house as the location of Pitt's birthday celebration in December of 2006. Brad Pitt was an architecture buff in college and had long sought to experience Fallingwater firsthand. [1]. Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Dennis Miller, Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid have also all made visits to the site.

In 2006 the iconic shot of Fallingwater from downstream was used in an American BMW television advertisement shown nationwide.