Friday, November 30, 2012

Sorry Frank, I Don't Like Fallingwater

Pennsylvania's iconic Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
You hear words like "brilliant" and "exceptional" in reference to Fallingwater. Sorry, no. Yes Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect yada yada, I'd be an idiot to call his body of work into question, I just don't like this house and I dislike that this house has become linked to FLW as the crowning achievement in a career spanning decades and that it is the most famous of his designs.

In all fairness I should go and see it before I make such a pronouncement but I can tell by pictures I don't like the design. It was built with the idea that it would blend in and compliment the surrounding landscape in keeping with Frank Lloyd Wright's later organic style of architecture.  In my opinion it does not accomplish this.

Isn't organic design less about imposing horizontal and vertical concrete lines on nature and more about working with the landscape that already exists? Nature is rarely about right angles. It undulates. He certainly became aware of this later and while he incorporated rocks found above the waterfall within the house's interior, he enclosed it in a harsh series of blocks that interrupt the surrounding lines like gashes on tree bark. However his Guggenheim Museum design is all about curving and spirals in a field of stern right angled high rises and city blocks so maybe he was all about making something stand out in its surroundings.

As is stated on the plaque, this is Fallingwater's very blendy entrance.

Creating a wow in the structure to accommodate existing trees hardly qualifies as organic although in the 1930's I suppose it was cutting edge. Saving any tree would be cutting edge back then.

Wiki says:

Hailed by Time shortly after its completion as Wright's "most beautiful job", it is listed among Smithsonian's Life List of 28 places "to visit before you die."  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. In 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects named the house the "best all-time work of American architecture" and in 2007, it was ranked twenty-ninth on the list of America's Favorite Architecture according to the AIA

Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built Fallingwater for the Kaufmann family between 1935-1939, it is situated 43 miles southeast of Pittsburgh  In 1938 it had already seduced the country and was on the cover of Time Magazine.

Fallingwater in the act of blending
If you read the article in Wiki it's easy to see that the people who sang the praises of Fallingwater were not the ones who actually had to live in it. The Kaufmann's only used it as a weekend get away and eventually donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. In 1964 it was opened to the public as a museum which is about the only calling it was destined to answer successfully.

Perhaps this would be answered adequately if I visited personally but
am I truly expected to wade through the water to access this stairway?
IS it a stairway or is it a series of lateral lines designed to
imitate the gills of the fish in the creek below?

Fallingwater was humid. Mr. Kaufmann referred to Fallingwater as "a seven-bucket building" because of its many leaks. He also nicknamed it "Rising Mildew". Fallingwater lacked moisture proofing and thermal breaks. Clearly a problem for a house built over water.

Oy, I had so much more but it's all just a rehash of my trying to explain why I don't like Fallingwater and frankly it's boring. Like bearing children, admiring Fallingwater is something I think people think is required of them because it's The Right Thing or so their knowledge of design is validated. I'm looking at you Brad Pitt. In the end, beauty is subjective and for me, Fallingwater is not practical, does not blend in with the nature around it and is not beautiful.

I thought The Unbearable Lightness of Being was over-rated also. Also I hate everything Thomas Hardy ever wrote. I'm glad I have that off my chest.


iambriezy said...

I guess we were bound to disagree eventually. I've always liked it from a design standpoint because of the contrast. I had no idea his goal was to blend. I think he failed there, but I know nothing about architecture. I'm not usually attracted to modern design, so maybe it's the location that sells me.

Frimmy said...

The location is beautiful.

Solon said...

I suppose it depends upon whose eyes you are using to see Fallingwater. Just seeing the way the large terrace juts out over the waterfall, EXACTLY the way nature made the rocks of the waterfall, it is apparently invisible to those who see with very limited visibility.

Solon said...

Some people have very limited vision and don't see how the large terrace juts out above the waterfall just as nature made the rocks of the waterfall. But then, I guess if I never actually saw Mt. Rushmore, in person, I'd probably think it was just a pile of rocks.

Frimmy said...

That's the nice thing about the word "subjective" and how it has nothing to do with "limited visibility". Also, I've seen Mt Rushmore and I'm less impressed with that landmark than I am Falling Water. I hate Jackson Pollock too. And monkeys.

Nancy said...

I believe the idea was, rather than having to wade through the creek to access the stairwell, the stairwell gave access to the creek. Having stood at the top of those stairs looking down, I certainly could envision myself sitting at the platform at the bottom, sticking my feet in the cool water on a summer day and enjoying the surroundings.

Frimmy said...

I see what you're saying here. Thanks for your perspective. It's rather a nice idea.

Jessica Levitt said...

I'm not sure if it's my favorite of FLW's work, but I do recommend you visit before you write it off entirely. I do like the design and admired it before I went, but going there was nothing short of magical. To start, it's a gorgeous location and I really felt like the home fit perfectly. No, I don't think it simply blends into nature but it does fit the location and seems to highlight it by visual contrast as well using the space both to bring nature in and encourage the resident to go outside. The home is very much about the experience of being there, which is quite different from looking at a picture. It does amaze me how poorly engineered the structure was and how arrogant FLW was to chose curved ceiling-to-wall joints that just crack over and over. But then you see the stone coming up into the living room floor or the windows with no corner joint and on and on and it's hard not to appreciate the genius. Oh and that staircase is accessed from a beautiful glass door/bulkhead in the living room that provides ventilation and brings the river up into the main living space. Honestly, I've dreamed about going down those stairs since I visited. ��

Frimmy said...

Before I read your comment I probably wouldn't have made the effort to go and see it. Now, I think you're right and I should see it before I write it off. Your description is enchanting.

John H said...

No, "organic design' is not about the avoidance of horizontal and vertical planes it is about creating harmony between the natural world and human development. The Guggenheim cited as your example of organic harmony obviously doesn't blend with it's surrounding environment little of which is natural.

Elizabee said...

Just came from Fallingwater. It was an emotional experience and I was very verklempt. Also, go see Kentuck Knob, it's just around the corner and sublime.

InternArchitect said...

Hahaha, I visited Falling Water for the first time this past afternoon. I just sat down to the computer after getting back from the trip, and I somehow stumble across this piece of work. I just kept laughing more and more as I progressed though the paragraphs. It's likely the silliest commentary on architecture I've read! Well, I guess I've read some pretty wacky things, so I don't want to be absolute in saying that, but the bombastic language, the incomplete syllogisms, and the strong conclusions from never actually seen or experienced the place, its just fantastic.

Frimmy said...

Bombastic. LOL!!!!

Ruby George said...

I am a volunteer tour interpreter at the FLW Home and Studio, and have had an appreciation for FLW since seeing the Home and Studio in the 4th grade. I can without a doubt say that seeing Fallingwater in person with my husband 2 years ago was visiting the most spectacular architectural achievement we have both ever seen. The nature was lovely and the house was better than I could have ever imagined. FLW's contractors weren't perfect, but that is besides the point. Who else has had the balls to design a house this beyond it's time?

Frimmy said...

It would seem that I better get myself to this house with a quickness, then decide. I truly appreciate your point of view. Thank you for taking the time to add your informed voice to this conversation. I'm going to add this place to my bucket list. And of course you're right, it was way ahead of its time and that, all by itself, is worthy of note.