Exploring Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's Most Infamous Masterpiece

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Cascading waterfalls and stunning architecture make for one of Pennsylvania’s most iconic attractions.

Perhaps one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most well-known designs, Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania has seen over five million visitors since its construction was completed in 1937. Built as a weekend home for Edgar Kaufmann of Kaufmann’s Department Store in Pittsburgh, the structure is considered a seminal work in Wright’s collection of designs—and surely one of the most impressive architectural feats of the century.

Nestled into the woods of southwestern Pennsylvania, the beauty of Fallingwater lies in Wright’s intentional integration of elements influenced by and balanced with the breathtaking and bountiful natural landscape. Bear Run, a nature reserve in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, is the perfect woodsy escape for those looking to explore the great outdoors, so it’s no surprise that the Kaufmann family was so keen on having their weekend home built there, within the foliage. The reserve is chock full of hiking trails and backcountry campsites, it’s a common ground for both hunting and fishing, and—of course—it’s now home to one of the country’s greatest architectural marvels. Whether you’re interested in a restorative, get-back-to-nature adventure or just a quick day trip, between the stunning landscape and Wright’s important work, there is plenty of reason to plan a trip to Fallingwater at Bear Run.

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One of the biggest draws of Fallingwater, aside from seeing the marvelous design in person, is getting to experience the special landscape that is Bear Run. It’s important to take the time to examine the land in order to begin to understand how Wright crafted the structure; it becomes exceedingly clear how the varied and dynamic geography of the region heavily influenced his innovative and genius design, and how the different natural elements and elevations made this structure so vastly different from his other works. Located within what is known as the Appalachian Plateaus and Mountains, Bear Run is composed of parallel ridges (made up of sandstone, lime, and shale) and a cascading river that has formed a series of waterfalls. And it is just this—the cascading waterfalls—that are big part of what make Wright’s design so remarkable. When Kaufmann commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build his family a weekend home in their beloved Bear Run, the architect chose to create a design that placed the structure not across from the falls but rather atop them, uniting man and nature, and allowing the home’s inhabitants to exist within with the stunning landscape, rather than viewing it from a distance.

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But the wonder of Fallingwater’s dramatic design doesn’t stop at the exterior. Inside the home, Wright’s love for Japanese architecture and the concept of creating harmony between man and nature is abundantly clear. Although it can’t be seen, sound is actually a vital component of the home’s interior, as the spaces were crafted to allow for the sound of the rushing waterfalls outside to be heard all over the house.

In terms of structure, the house was designed around a central fireplace, which juts out of the roof as the highest point on the structure’s exterior. The idea within the living spaces was to orient them around the natural surroundings; the living room is open and spacious, the bedrooms are slightly smaller and the kitchen is compact. The rooms were simply furnished by Wright himself, and they are connected by narrow, dark hallways that impart a feeling of depth and enclosure on inhabitants, so as to amplify the feeling of expansion and openness when approaching the outdoors. Long, cantilevered terraces extend from the house at right angles, opening the interior spaces into the splendid surrounding landscape. It is this confluence between indoor and outdoor, interior and exterior, man and nature, that makes Fallingwater such a legendary architectural masterpiece.  

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If you are planning a trip, be sure to have a look at the website, where you can purchase tickets for a tour of the property. Tours are available daily, except Wednesday, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The season will re-open in March.