Following Fallingwater’s completion in 1937, Wright designed several houses in the Washington area, including the Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria and the Luis Marden House in McLean, and his work influenced the design of many others in the region including the entire Holmes Run Acres neighborhood in Fairfax County.
Sitting in the living room at Fallingwater, it’s easy to be engrossed in the view out the window: mossy patches, birch trees, laurel bushes and squirrels.
To regard what is outside a house as more important than what is inside is not how most architects approach design, but Wright was in a class by himself. His understanding of nature profoundly differs from our own, though it was not unusual for someone born in 1867, shortly after the end of the Civil War.
Like most children of that era, he spent his summers outside, in his case in the woods of rural Wisconsin. There he learned to love both the minutia and the majesty of a wild landscape, the drama of the occasional thunderstorm and the continual change in the sights and sounds of a forested area, depending on the time of year and the time of day. Wright felt this strong connection to nature throughout his life, and Fallingwater presented him with a unique opportunity to showcase it.
Unlike his previous houses, which were surrounded by manicured lawns and gardens, this one would be set in a huge wooded area that was not unlike the Wisconsin forests of his childhood, with the added bonus of a dramatic waterfall.
Wright chose to present these in a completely unexpected way. Most architects would have planned the house so that the falls could be seen from every room, but not Wright. He placed the house above the falls, so that they are not visible from inside. To see them, you must go outside, cross the stream and find the path that leads to the only area for viewing them, in the process encountering the surrounding flora and fauna.
Some have likened the architectural experience of Fallingwater to a walk in the woods — just as the landscape and reference points constantly change as you move along a trail, your sense of Fallingwater constantly changes as you move in and around it. Unlike most houses that have a recognizable geometric shape that can be easily grasped, Fallingwater is a mass of concrete terraces that project in different directions, and rough-cut stone walls. Its appearance on one side gives no clue as to what it will look like when you turn the corner and see another side, or what it will look like when you look down from above or up from below, but in Wright’s masterful hands the composition hangs together.