Falling Water turns 75 – Green Architecture at its Finest, Decades Ahead of its Time

If you think that green architecture is something that has to be plain, simple and boring then you owe it to yourself to make the trip to the tiny Pennsylvania town of Ohiopyle this year to be proved wrong.

2011 marks the 75th anniversary of the construction of Falling Water, an architectural marvel dreamed up by a world famous architect and a department store millionaire that still stands today as one of the most breath taking examples of American architecture in general, and one that made the first use of some of the green building techniques that most of think are so innovative today.

In the 1930s Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann were the owners of one of the finest department store chains in the country Kaufmann’s in Pittsburgh (the flagship store was bought out by Macy’s a few years ago but still exists) Like many Steeltown residents, they loved to get out the city and into the countryside around them, in their case the Allegheny Mountains south of the city.

After years of living in a simple cabin and as their only child Edgar Jr got older, the couple decided they wanted to build a permanent vacation home. And since they has recently made his acquaintance they asked already legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build it for them.

And build it he did. His vision though was to create a home that while spectacular did not detract from the beauty of its surroundings but drew from them instead. And it did. Falling Water is built on top of an active waterfall which flows beneath the house.

The fireplace hearth in the living room integrates boulders found on the site and upon which the house was built and ledge rock which protrudes up to a foot through the living room floor was left in place to demonstrably link the outside with the inside.

Lloyd Wright sourced as many of his building materials locally as he could and his innovative use of stone and cork flooring throughout the house is one the first examples of “green flooring” in action in residential setting. When the home was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1939 it was hailed as an international sensation.

In 1978 a few years before his death Edgar Jr tried, in an interview, to sum up what his parents and Lloyd Wright had been trying to achieve. “In Fallingwater, Wright captured the perfect essence of our desire to live with nature, to dwell in a forested place and be at home in the natural world”.

It was the younger Wright who decreed that Falling Water be handed over to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. It is now open to the public and there are a number of camps and workshops available to those want to learn more about Falling Water and the principles behind it.

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44 Responses to “Falling Water turns 75 – Green Architecture at its Finest, Decades Ahead of its Time”

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