Visiting Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece

Last weekend, my boyfriend D and I embarked at what we called our ‘Epic East coast road trip’. Little did we know how that a small storm by the name of Irene would change our plans. Our original plan was to spend a day in Philadelphia, PA, two days in Virginia Beach, VA, one day in Washington, DC and one in Pittsburgh,PA before heading for home. Obviously given the storm’s path our jaunt to the beach was out, so we ended up spending an extra day each in Philadelphia and Washington.

By the time we made it to Pittsburgh, we didn’t quite feel like wandering around another city, especially since it didn’t have the same famous history as our other two stops. Luckily I had discovered in my searches for things to see on our trip that Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic masterpiece is only about 1.5hrs from Pittsburgh, and completely worth the trip.

The cantilevered structure of Fallingwater

Fallingwater was built by the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh (owners of Kaufmann’s department store) in 1937 as a weekend retreat. The main house has 4 bedrooms – one for the Mr, one for the Mrs, one for their son, and one for a guest. The guest cottage which was completed two years later, has one guest room, and also the servant quarters.

The living room at Fallingwater. The furniture was also mostly designed by Wright.

Fallingwater was built by local laborers, and almost immediately upon its completion was hailed as a masterpiece. Time Magazine put the home on the cover of its magazine, and in their Jan 17, 1938 issue called it Wright’s ‘most beautiful work’. More recently it’s made Smithsonian Magazine’s Life list: ’43 places to see before you die’. (As an aside, I’ve seen 7 of the places  on the list – 6 in the past 8 years).

These corner windows open outward for an unobstructed view

Fallingwater is built over the waterfall on Bear Run stream, and mimics the land on which it sits. The building consists of concrete cantilevers that appear to be almost natural extensions of the landscape that surrounds the falls and the building. Wright’s use of cantilevers meant that floor and ceiling were independently supported and didn’t need any extra structural support (usually found surrounding windows) around the exteriors of the building. This allowed him to design corner windows that could be opened outwards giving an uninterrupted view of the natural environment surrounding the house.

Fallingwater’s windows

There are several different tours available at Fallingwater – a grounds tour, and regular tour where interior photo’s are not allowed, and the in-depth tour where you can take interior pictures as long as they remain for personal use.

Living in History

My condo is in a building that was designated a heritage property by the city of Toronto on July 8, 1998.

Heritage Toronto Plaque

The following is excerpted from a City of Toronto report (May 25, 1998) recommending the heritage designation for the building.

The property is identified for architectural reasons. The apartments were constructed in 1928 according to the designs of Toronto architects Kaplan and Sprachman. W. Pidgeon and Sons Limited were both the developers and the contractors for the project. Albert E. Pidgeon, a member of the firm, occupied a unit.

The apartments are designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, identified by the red clay tile roofs, curvilinear gable, round-arched openings, and stone details imitating adobe stucco. The I-shaped three-storey plan is covered by a hipped tiled roof with gables on the south face and double chimneys on the east, south and west ends. The principal (south) facade is symmetrically organized in three parts. The centre section contains the main entrance at ground level. A projecting entrance porch has a red tile roof supported on brick piers. A round-arched stone-clad opening contains a single wood door with multi-paned sash and arched sidelights with single panes. Iron light fixtures in the shape of griffins holding globe lights are placed on either side of the entrance. A two-storey round-arched window opening over the entrance lights the interior stairwell. Pairs of rectangular windows are separated by a spandrel and surmounted by an arched transom with leaded glass. On either side of the entrance bay, each of the three stories has single flat-headed windows with brick lintels and extended stone sills. The centre of the wall is topped by a curved gable with corbelled brick and stone coping. The end sections of the south wall have flat-headed window openings, organized in pairs and threes and linked by continuous sills. Trios of round-arched window openings mark the third storey. Above, the gable ends of the roof have stone corbels and brackets. The end walls of the south wing are devoid of openings. The north extension of the building has red brick cladding and regularly spaced fenestration. On the interior, the entrance hall with its ceramic tile floor and the wood staircase are important features.

The property is set on landscaped grounds on a tree-lined street. It is a well-designed example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style and a visible feature amid the mainly single residential buildings in the North Toronto neighbourhood.

My Building

A Google search of the architectural firm who designed the building will find that they were noted theater architects who designed between 70 and 80 percent of all movie theaters in Canada between 1919 and the 1950’s including the Eglinton Theater which is located not far from my building. It opened on April 15, 1936 with a screening of ‘King of Burlesque‘.

The Eglinton Grand (source: torontoist.com)