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Fallingwater in Mill Run – Pennsylvania

The property and ideas behind Fallingwater come from a friendship and mutual love between the Kaufmanns and the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Kaufmanns owned land in an undeveloped part of Pennsylvania, near the Appalachian Mountains. This area even today is filled with a great deal of nothing. The wilderness of the area has a massive standing on what could actually be built there. Uneven terrain, running water and forests were at the centre of the love the Kaufmanns had for the area they owned, known as Bear Run. Spending time there would confirm your beliefs behind why the place was know by this name. Maybe no the ideal location for a building.

The new ideas that Edgar Kaufmann brought to retail were part of a wider love in life for moving the boundaries and trying new things. Frank Lloyd Wright came into Edgar’s life when he designed the office for the retailer in his department store in Pittsburgh. This was the start of a friendship and mutual respect between the architect and the Kaufmanns. The time they spent together, discussing the ideas behind a building in Bear Run, making the most of the natural beauty of the area, were fruitful.

 

History

In the boom days of the USA, as pioneers made their fortunes, they often turned their attention to spending the vast amounts of cash that they had generated. You will see stories of industrialists and retailers developing public and private buildings as major projects in their life.

Edgar Jonas Kaufmann was one such of these people. He was a retailer of some repute in Pennsylvania who was born into a family with a great deal of wealth. His schooling took place across the globe, in locations such as Paris and Hamburg. With such an education and a blooming confidence in his ability, Edgar took over the running of the family retail chain and tripled sales in the business pretty quickly – in fact the reports are that he took total sales to $30 million – a tidy figure back in 1920.

He was a lifelong support of retail organisations and this developed over the years to programs for others and developing new ideas that still stand in retail circles today. Developing large areas of Pittsburgh with the fortune amassed from retailing, Edgar and his wife Liliane were loved by the people of the city.

 

New ideas

At first, the family were considering a building that took into account views of the beautiful waterfall in the area. But, Wright had a slightly different idea. He thought that the building would be something transformative in architecture if it became part of the landscape. He envisioned it sitting in and around the waterfall. The Kaufmanns were hooked. The idea took life. Wright, famous for buildings such as The Guggenheim Museum in New York, started working on an ambitious plan to build with heavy concrete slabs balanced on the rock ledges of the waterfall. The name Fallingwater seemingly came out of the location, as the ideas took shape. Frank Lloyd Wright only needed one set of drawings to spark the imagination of the Kaufmanns.

A building in keeping with the surrounding area appeals on so many levels. Looking at the property from a distance, or being in it looking out, sparks so many feelings of connection with the natural world. The building feels like it comes out of the rocks and was born by the landscape. Nowhere does it jar of feel like it hasn’t been there for millennia.

The building was completed in 1937 and was set as the residence for the family. They loved the place and its connection with nature. But a more public-spirited meaning was behind the home. Unfortunately for the family, it took the death of Edgar and Liliane to make the decision to turn Fallingwater into a place that was open for public tours. The year was 1963, and people have been visiting this marvel ever since.

In the meantime, it has been given privileged status by World Heritage and UNESCO as a place of significant architectural significance. Properties that sit nicely in natural surroundings are one thing. Buildings that become part of the landscape are something else altogether. Fallingwater has become a monument to this – and is seen by many as the greatest triumph of Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s quite some legacy!

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