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C926
FALLINGWATER: The Most Beautiful House in the World

Jeffrey Syken

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”

In this excerpt from "Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography" (1932), the master architect defined the reasoning behind placing his own home/studio in Spring Green, Wis., on the brow of a hill. With his tradition of giving his houses names, he called it “Taliesin” – a Welsh word meaning “Shining Brow,” to emphasize the point. So it’s not at all surprising that when Wright first saw the site proposed for the weekend home of a Pittsburgh “Merchant Prince” and his immediate family – a deeply wooded forest with a creek named "Bear Run" whose focal point was a dramatic waterfall, Wright naturally applied this philosophy to locating the house on the site.

Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., his wife Liliane and son Edgar Jr. were fond of the waterfall where they often bathed in the cool, clean water and picnicked atop the boulder projecting over the falls. The Kaufmann’s made Wright aware of their fondness for the falls and thought Wright would place the house on the opposite bank, so they would have a clear view of it. Instead, Wright placed the house directly over the falls, with the massive boulders acting as its foundation. Wright stated that nature had cantilevered the massive rocks out over the falls so too would he cantilever their house out over the falls, allowing the Kaufmanns to live with the falls rather than just look at it from a distance. Thus was born Fallingwater, the commission that would put “America’s Architect” back in the game, for keeps.

Placing a large house over a waterfall comes with a certain amount of difficulty, especially when a little less than half the square footage of the house consists of cantilevered terraces. Support for the four main cantilevered reinforced concrete beams would be provided by four piers (a/k/a “bolsters”), one made of masonry and the other three made of reinforced concrete. However, the Taliesin apprentices overseeing the construction and the contractor recognized a serious deficiency in the amount of reinforcing to be placed in the four beams and, without telling Wright, they increased the amount of rebar significantly (a good thing they did, as it turned out). Even so, a sag was evident immediately that, by the mid-1990s, had to be dealt with lest the structure suffer an imminent collapse. Enter Robert Silman Associates and their “fix” using External Post-Tensioning (EPT) to stabilize the structure. It worked, and Fallingwater is no longer in danger of becoming “Fallinghouse.”

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.


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