Historic Structures

Building Description Falling Water - Frank Lloyd Wright House, Mill Run Pennsylvania

Fallingwater is located on acres of rolling woodland. The main house is sited on the north of Bear Run, above the upper waterfall. It is oriented toward 150 degrees on the compass, or 7.5 degrees east of South-Southeast. The principal entrance is at the back (north side) through a loggia leading off a driveway between the house and a rock cliff about 16 feet high. A secondary entrance, to the kitchen, is at the northwest corner of the house, also from the driveway.

The main house, built in 1937, is three stories high; average stream level is 1298' above sea level, the first-floor level. The first story comprises a large central living room, with dining table and glazed hatch leading down steps to the stream, the kitchen, and a small entry. Steel and glass doors open from the living room to terraces on the east and west. The second story is occupied by a master bedroom and terrace (above the living room); Mr. Kaufmann's dressing room (above the kitchen) opening onto a terrace to the west; and a guest bedroom (above the east side of the living room). The third story is taken by a bedroom (above Mr. Kaufmann's dressing room), west balcony stairs leading down to the west terrace and a "gallery" opening onto a terrace above the center of the house. The bedroom is now furnished as a library, and the gallery, originally conceived as a connecting passage to a pedestrian bridge over the driveway, now leads to an alcove furnished as a small bedroom.

The structure of the main house consists of native sandstone walls, piers, walls, and chimney core, with floors of cantilevered slabs of reinforced concrete. Window and door sash is of steel. Floors, indoors and out, are finished with two inch flags of native sandstone. Millwork is of black walnut plywood.

Wright designed all of the furniture with the house with minor exceptions. He used walnut veneer extensively on the interior furnishings, for cabinets in the bedrooms, and chose other appropriate furnishings and sculpture for the house. Most of the furniture is of the built-in variety and thus stationary.

Edgar Kaufmann described the structure in an article thus: "Wright fixed the great chimney mass on top of a large boulder, its natural upper surface becoming the living room hearth, set above the finished floor. Around this point Wright swung his spaces; to the south the living room cantilevering over the falls; to the east the entrance spaces, to the west the kitchen, and to the north narrow strip for stairs and dining, all organized by four massive low piers that define the center bay of the living room. The north side of the house is almost sheltered by a steep cliff; the driveway runs narrowly between cliff and house.

The structure is so unusual that, although it is accurately expressed, more familiar preconceptions lead most people to; 'read' the house wrongly. They think of tall stone walls from which the reinforced concrete projects. In fact, Wright conceived the house as a series of horizontal concrete trays, upturned, stiffening edges; these trays are merely spaced one above the other by short stone masses. Wherever stone and concrete meet, the latter is continuous. Each concrete tray is structural on its lower surface; above this, in many areas, is an air space divided by small concrete walls that support a wood floor, finished in flag stones from the nearby quarry...Wright kept talking about the continuity of fall surfaces on either side of the glass line. Floors must be at the same level, in the same stone flagging; ceiling surfaces were to be continuous and their color, uninterrupted."

The guest wing and servants' quarters, built in 1939 on the hill above the main house, at about 1340' above sea level, is connected to the main house by a semicircular walkway of stone protected by a cantilevered canopy of reinforced concrete. The guest wing is composed of a bedroom and lounge, with swimming pool to the east; the servants' quarters consist of two single rooms and one "double" sized room on the second story, above the four-place carport, and a chaufeur's room at the south end of the carport level. Structure and millwork are of same character as main house.

There have been few changes. In 1946 the kitchen was extended to the west to provide a servants' sitting room, a separate furnace was installed for the guest wing. In 1954 the east part of the cantilevered roof slab above the guest bedroom terrace of the main house was rebuilt. After a flood in 1956 the hanging stairs to the stream were reinforced with two additional steel ties into the bedrock of the stream.