Katherine Salant


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fallingwater was built as a family weekend retreat for Pittsburgh businessman Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. Cabins on his wooded, rural property 50 miles from the city had begun to deteriorate, so he contacted Frank Lloyd Wright.

The family was quite stunned when Wright suggested building the house atop a waterfall, rather than overlooking it. His plan called for a geometric structure of reinforced concrete and stone, with cantilevers over rock outcrops and a boulder bursting through the floor. Construction began in 1936 and ended with the completion of the guest house in 1939.

What's special: By trusting Wright's instincts, the Kaufmanns came to own one of the greatest pieces of American architecture and Wright's most acclaimed work. Though its materials aren't necessarily eco-friendly, Fallingwater is indeed an organic house because of how well it merges with its natural surroundings. Glass isn't edged in metal frames; it's caulked to stone. The terraces mimic rock formations. The waterfall echoes throughout the house. "I'm designing a building to the music of the stream," Wright once told Kaufmann.

One thing you didn't know: After it was completed, the house had serious mold issues from leaks and the humidity stemming from its locale. Kaufmann thus nicknamed his new retreat "Rising Mildew."

Best way to see it: Kaufmann donated the house to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which has run it as a museum for more than four decades. More than 4 million people have seen it since.

Wright admirers may want to sign up for the two-hour, in-depth tour, which is offered mornings only; $55 (plus service fee). Otherwise, the regular tour is 55 minutes and $16 plus service fee.

What to expect: Summer and the fall foliage season are busiest; you'll have to buy tickets upward of six weeks in advance. Otherwise, a week or two before a weekday visit and a month before a weekend trip will suffice. The conservancy says tours are more leisurely in mid-March, April and November; from Thanksgiving through New Year's, the museum has limited hours, and it's closed in January and February.

Where to eat: The on-site self-serve cafe has soup, salads, sandwiches and seasonal entrees. In addition, a few Fallingwater tours include meals served on private terraces. Lunch is a part of the Fallingwater Focus tour ($600 for four people).

More info: 724-329-8501, http://www.paconserve.org.

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