Thursday, June 25, 2009

Arcitectural Pilgrimage | Fallingwater

Each month until December the AIA will run a feature piece on Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece on Bear Run creek in rural Pennsylvania. The six part series will explore all things Fallingwater.

Two years ago, on a brilliant October morning, two colleagues and I set off from New York City (the images above are courtesy of them, Jimmy Chang and Yen-Ming Lee, as my camera died upon arrival at Fallingwater). Six hours later we were observing for ourselves the iconic image heretofore only seen in the many Frank Lloyd Wright books one receives from friends and family when they find out you like architecture and are from the Midwest.

I had visited the Willey House in Minneapolis and the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, WI so I had a certain expectation of what this visit would entail. We would be walked around by a guide, we would take photos, we would respect the quality of the work, and we would get back in our car.

Instead I was awestruck.

It’s tough to compose that sentence and have the reader not think I’m injecting hyperbole, but that was my honest reaction. The building was destined to be on that site and be composed as it was composed. Further, it was seemingly made to be visited in the fall. The way the building’s palette interacts with the oranges, reds, and browns of nature’s palette in the fall creates a visual harmony. The trail that meanders around the property offers both glimpses and grand vistas of the building.

Not only is it a great piece to be viewed it is an equally great place to view from. The expansive balconies open to views of the creek and the ravine it cuts through. The circulation areas frame natural vignettes. The interior spaces offer a great variety of spatiality, something I greatly enjoy about Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and appreciate when it is found in architecture in general. The living area on the first level leans toward the panoramic. It is architectural space as a widescreen viewer. Conversely, the stair, hallways, and bedrooms are short and intimate. To put it in aspect ratio terms, the living space is a 16:9 and the stair, bedrooms, and hallways are a 4:3.

The restoration of the building has left it immaculate even though it is traversed by 120,000 visitors each year. I highly recommend that you make the journey to take in one of the great pieces of American architecture, and to be one of those 120,000 people in the near future.

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