Fallingwater in Stewart Township, Pennsylvania
Interactive map showing Fallingwater's location
LocationStewart Township,
Fayette County, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nearest cityUniontown
Coordinates39°54′22″N 79°28′5″W / 39.90611°N 79.46806°W / 39.90611; -79.46806
ArchitectFrank Lloyd Wright
Architectural style(s)Modern architecture
Visitorsabout 135,000
Governing bodyWestern Pennsylvania Conservancy
CriteriaCultural: (ii)
Designated2019 (43rd session)
Part ofThe 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright
Reference no.1496-005
RegionEurope and North America
DesignatedJuly 23, 1974[1]
Reference no.74001781[1]
DesignatedMay 23, 1966[2]
DesignatedMay 15, 1994[3]
Fallingwater path from house to guest house

Fallingwater is a house designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. Situated in the Mill Run section of Stewart township, in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania, about 70 miles (110 km) southeast of Pittsburgh in the United States,[4] it is built partly over a waterfall on the Bear Run river. The house was designed to serve as a weekend retreat for Liliane and Edgar J. Kaufmann, the owner of Pittsburgh's Kaufmann's Department Store.

After its completion, Time called Fallingwater Wright's "most beautiful job"[5] and it is listed among Smithsonian's "Life List of 28 Places to See Before You Die".[6] The house was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976.[7] In 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) named Fallingwater the "best all-time work of American architecture" and in 2007, the AIA ranked it 29th on its list of America's Favorite Architecture.[8]

In 2019, the house and seven other Wright constructions were inscribed as World Heritage Sites under the title, "The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright".[9]


Fallingwater, as seen from Bear Run

At age 67, Frank Lloyd Wright was given the opportunity to design and construct three buildings. With his three works of the late 1930s, (Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and the Herbert Jacobs house in Madison, Wisconsin), Wright regained his prominence in the architectural community.[10]

The Kaufmanns

Edgar J. Kaufmann was a Pittsburgh businessman and president of Kaufmann's Department Store. Liliane Kaufmann, like her husband, was a keen outdoors person; she enjoyed both hiking and horseback riding. She had a strong aesthetic sensibility which is reflected in the house's design.[11]

Edgar and Liliane's only child, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., became the catalyst for his father's relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright.[11] In the summer of 1934, Kaufmann read Frank Lloyd Wright's An Autobiography (1932) and traveled to meet him at his home in Wisconsin in late September. Within three weeks, he began an apprenticeship at the Taliesin Fellowship, a communal architecture program established in 1932 by Wright and his wife, Olgivanna. It was during a visit with their son at Taliesin in November 1934 that Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann first met Wright.[11]

The Kaufmanns lived in La Tourelle, a French Norman estate in Fox Chapel designed in 1923 by Pittsburgh architect Benno Janssen. However, the family also owned a remote property outside Pittsburgh—a small cabin near a waterfall—which was used as a summer retreat. When these cabins deteriorated, Kaufmann contacted Wright.

On December 18, 1934, Wright visited Bear Run and asked for a survey of the area around the waterfall.[12] One was prepared by Fayette Engineering Company of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, including all the site's boulders, trees, and topography, and forwarded to Wright in March 1935.[13]


The strong horizontal and vertical lines are a distinctive feature of Fallingwater

As reported by Frank Lloyd Wright's apprentices at Taliesin, Kaufmann was in Milwaukee on September 22, nine months after their initial meeting, and called Wright at home early Sunday morning to surprise him with the news that he would be visiting him that day. Wright had told Kaufmann in earlier communications that he had been making progress on the plans but in actuality, he had not done anything. After breakfast, amid a group of very nervous apprentices, Wright calmly drew the plans in the two hours in which it took Kaufmann to drive to Taliesin.[14] Witnesses Edgar Tafel and Robert Mosher, Taliesin apprentices at the time, later stated that when Wright was designing the plans he spoke of how the spaces would be used, directly linking form to function.[15]

Wright designed the home above the waterfall: Kaufmann had expected it to be below the falls to afford a view of the cascades.[16][17] It has been said that he was initially very upset with this change.[12]

The Kaufmanns planned to entertain large groups so the house needed to be larger than the original plot allowed. They also requested separate bedrooms as well as a bedroom for their adult son and an additional guest room.[12] A cantilevered structure was used to address these requests.[12] The structural design for Fallingwater was undertaken by Wright in association with staff engineers Mendel Glickman and William Wesley Peters, who had been responsible for the columns in Wright's revolutionary design for the Johnson Wax Headquarters.

Preliminary plans were issued to Kaufmann for approval on October 15, 1935,[18] after which Wright made an additional visit to the site to generate a cost estimate for the job. In December 1935, an old rock quarry was reopened to the west of the site to provide the stones needed for the house's walls. Wright visited only periodically during construction, assigning his apprentice Robert Mosher as his permanent on-site representative.[18] The final drawings were issued by Wright in March 1936 with work beginning on the bridge and main house in April.

The construction was plagued by conflicts between Wright, Kaufmann, and the contractor. Uncomfortable with what he saw as Wright's insufficient experience using reinforced concrete, Kaufmann had the architect's daring cantilever design reviewed by a firm of consulting engineers. Upon receiving their report, Wright took offense, immediately requesting that Kaufmann return his drawings and indicating that he was withdrawing from the project. Kaufmann relented to Wright's gambit and the engineer's report was subsequently buried within a stone wall of the house.[18]

For the cantilevered floors, Wright and his team used upside-down T-shaped beams integrated into a monolithic concrete slab which formed both the ceiling of the space below and provided resistance against compression. The contractor, Walter Hall, also an engineer, produced independent computations and argued for increasing the reinforcing steel in the first floor's slab—Wright refused the suggestion. There was speculation over the years that the contractor quietly doubled the amount of reinforcement[19] versus Kaufmann's consulting engineers doubling the amount of steel specified by Wright.[18] During the process of restoration begun in 1995, it was confirmed that additional concrete reinforcement had been added.

In addition, the contractor did not build in a slight upward incline in the formwork for the cantilever to compensate for its settling and deflection. Once the formwork was removed, the cantilever developed a noticeable sag. Upon learning of the unapproved steel addition, Wright recalled Mosher.[20] With Kaufmann's approval, the consulting engineers had a supporting wall installed under the main supporting beam for the west terrace. When Wright discovered it on a site visit, he had Mosher discreetly remove the top course of stones. When Kaufmann later confessed to what had been done, Wright showed him what Mosher had done and pointed out that the cantilever had held up for the past month under test loads without the wall's support.[21]

The main house was completed in 1938 and the guest house was completed the following year.[22]


The original estimated cost for building Fallingwater was $35,000. The final cost for the home and guest house was $155,000,[23][24][25] which included $75,000 for the house; $22,000 for finishings and furnishings; $50,000 for the guest house, garage and servants' quarters; and an $8,000 architect's fee. From 1938 through 1941, more than $22,000 was spent on additional details and for changes in the hardware and lighting.[26]

The total cost of $155,000, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to about $3.4 million in 2023. The cost of the house's restoration in 2001 was estimated to be $11.5 million (approximately $19.8 million in 2023).[27]


Fallingwater was the Kaufmann family's weekend home from 1937 until 1963, when Edgar Kaufmann Jr. donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.[24] The family retreated to Fallingwater on weekends to escape the heat and smoke of industrial Pittsburgh. Liliane enjoyed swimming in the nude and collecting modern art, especially the works of Diego Rivera, who was a guest at the country house.[28]

[Wright] understood that people were creatures of nature, hence an architecture which conformed to nature would conform to what was basic in people. For example, although all of Falling Water [sic] is opened by broad bands of windows, people inside are sheltered as in a deep cave, secure in the sense of the hill behind them.

— Edgar Kaufmann Jr.[29]


The "Fallingwater" name originated with Wright in late 1937, when he wrote the text that accompanied a feature article on Wright's career in the January 1938 Architectural Forum. Until that time it had been referred to on Wright's drawings and in correspondence as the E.J. Kaufmann Residence or E.J. Kaufmann House, the names used in publications covering the house's construction. The new name immediately became popular, and was amplified by a 1938 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and in Henry Luce's popular magazines Time and Life. The name was apparently disliked by E.J. and Liliane Kaufmann, who did not use it.[30]


The interior of Fallingwater, showing a sitting area with furnishings designed by Wright
Viewing platform at the stream
Driveway leading to the entrance of Fallingwater

Fallingwater has been described as an architectural tour de force of Wright's organic architecture.[31] The building includes Japanese architectural details because of Wright's love of Japanese architecture. Contemporary Japanese architect Tadao Ando has said of the house:

I think Wright learned the most important aspect of architecture, the treatment of space, from Japanese architecture. When I visited Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, I found that same sensibility of space. But there was the additional sounds of nature that appealed to me.[32]

The private residence was intended to be a nature retreat for its owners. It is built on top of an active waterfall that flows beneath the house.[citation needed] Wright had initially planned to have the house blend into its natural settings in rural Pennsylvania.[33] In doing so, he limited his palette to two colors, a light ocher for the concrete and his signature Cherokee red for the steel.[34] The stone walls (made of stone from local quarries) and cantilevered terraces was intended to resemble the nearby rock formations, while the windows and balconies extended into their surroundings. In conformance with Wright's views, the main entry door is away from the falls.[citation needed]

The fireplace hearth in the living room integrates boulders found on the site upon which the house was built—a ledge rock which protrudes up to a foot through the living room floor was left in place to link the outside with the inside. Wright had initially intended that the ledge be cut flush with the floor but this had been one of the family's favorite sunning spots, so Kaufmann suggested that it be left as it was. The stone floors are waxed while the hearth is left plain, giving the impression of dry rocks protruding from a stream.[citation needed]

Even with smaller details, Wright tried to integrate the exterior and interior designs. Where glass meets stone walls, the glass and its horizontal dividers were run into a caulked recess in the stonework so that the stone walls appear uninterrupted by glazing. From the cantilevered living room, a stairway leads directly down to an isolated platform at the stream below. A connecting space which connects the main house with the guest and servant level, a natural spring drips water inside, which is then channeled back out. Bedrooms are small, some with low ceilings; this was intended to encourage people outward toward the open social areas, decks, and outdoors.[citation needed]

On the hillside above the main house stands a four-bay carport, servants' quarters, and a guest house. These attached outbuildings were built two years later using the same quality of materials and attention to detail as the main house. The guest quarters feature a spring-fed swimming pool which overflows and drains to the river below. After Fallingwater was deeded to the public, three carport bays were enclosed at the direction of Kaufmann Jr. to be used by museum visitors to view a presentation at the end of their guided tours on the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (to which the home was entrusted). Kaufmann Jr. designed its interior himself to specifications found in other Fallingwater interiors by Wright.[citation needed]

A model of the house was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009.[35]

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The cantilevers at Fallingwater

After his father's death in 1955, Kaufmann Jr. inherited Fallingwater, continuing to use it as a weekend retreat until the early 1960s. Increasingly concerned with ensuring Fallingwater's preservation and following his father's wishes, he entrusted the home and approximately 1,500 acres of land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in tribute to his parents.[36] He guided the organization's thinking about Fallingwater's administration, care, and educational programming and was a frequent visitor as guided tours began in 1964. Kaufmann's partner, architect and designer Paul Mayén, also contributed to the legacy of Fallingwater with a design for the visitor center, completed in 1981.[37] The house attracts more than 160,000 visitors from around the world each year.[22][38]


Miniature replica of the Fallingwater building at MRRV, at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh

Fallingwater had shown signs of deterioration over the past 80 years due in large part to its exposure to humidity and sunlight. The severe freeze-thaw conditions of southwest Pennsylvania and water infiltration also affected the structural materials.[39] Because of these conditions, a thorough cleaning of the exterior stone walls is performed periodically.

Fallingwater's six bathrooms are lined with cork tiles. When used as a flooring material, the cork tiles were hand-waxed, giving them a shiny finish that supplemented their natural ability to repel water. Over time the cork has begun to show water damage, requiring the Conservancy to make frequent repairs.[40]

In addition, Fallingwater's structural system includes a series of very bold reinforced concrete cantilevered balconies. Pronounced deflection of the concrete cantilevers was noticed as soon as the formwork was removed during construction. This deflection increased over time, eventually reaching 7 inches (180 mm) over a 15 foot (4.6 m) span.

In 1995, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy commissioned a study of the site's structural integrity. Structural engineers analyzed the movement of the cantilevers over time and conducted radar analysis to locate and quantify the reinforcement. The data proved the contractor had indeed added reinforcement over Wright's plan; nevertheless, the cantilevers were still insufficiently reinforced. Both the concrete and its steel reinforcement were close to their failure limits. An architectural firm was hired to fix the problem[41] beginning with the installation of temporary girders in 1997.[39][42]

In 2002, the structure was repaired permanently using post-tensioning. The living room flagstone floor blocks were individually tagged and removed. Blocks were joined to the concrete cantilever beams and floor joists; high-strength steel cables were fed through the blocks and exterior concrete walls and tightened using jacks. The floors and walls were then restored, leaving Fallingwater's interior and exterior appearance unchanged. As of 2011, the cantilevers have sufficient support and the deflection has stopped.[43] The Conservancy continues to monitor movement in the cantilevers.

Depictions in popular culture

See also


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "Fallingwater". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on June 24, 2008. Retrieved July 2, 2008.
  3. ^ "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Archived from the original on December 7, 2013. Retrieved December 20, 2013.
  4. ^ "Fallingwater". Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Retrieved September 7, 2021.
  5. ^ "Usonian Architect". Time. January 17, 1938. Archived from the original on March 12, 2008. Retrieved January 27, 2008.
  6. ^ "The Smithsonian Life List". Smithsonian. January 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  7. ^ "NHLS Associated with Frank Lloyd Wright – National Historic Landmarks (U.S. National Park Service)".
  8. ^ "AIA 150" (PDF). NPR.
  9. ^ "The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  10. ^ McCarter, Robert (2001). "Wright, Frank Lloyd". In Boyer, Paul S. (ed.). The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-508209-8.
  11. ^ a b c "The Kaufmann Family – Fallingwater". Fallingwater. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d Toker, F. (2003). Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's most extraordinary house. New York: Knopf. ISBN 1400040264.
  13. ^ Hoffmann, Donald (1993). Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: The House and Its History (2 ed.). New York: Dover Publications Inc. pp. 11–25.
  14. ^ Tafel, Edgar (1979). Apprentice to genius: Years with Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0070628151.
  15. ^ "Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater". Khan Academy.
  16. ^ "[W]hy did the client say that he expected to look from his house toward the waterfall rather than dwell above it?" Edgar Kaufmann Jr., Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House, New York: Abbeville Press, p. 31. (ISBN 0-89659-662-1)
  17. ^ McCarter, page 7.
  18. ^ a b c d Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright (Architecture in Detail) McCarter, Robert, page 12. ISBN 0714829951
  19. ^ Feldman, Gerard C. (September 2005). "Fallingwater Is No Longer Falling" (PDF). Structure. pp. 46–50. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 15, 2010.
  20. ^ McCarter, pages 12 and 13.
  21. ^ McCarter, pages 13.
  22. ^ a b "Fallingwater Facts – Fallingwater". Fallingwater. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  23. ^ McCarter, page 59.
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  26. ^ Hoffman, page 61
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  28. ^ "The Kaufmann Legacy". Retrieved December 13, 2017.
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  30. ^ Toker, pp. 259–261
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  32. ^ "Tadao Ando, 1995 Laureate: Biography" (PDF). The Hyatt Foundation. 1995. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 23, 2009. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  33. ^ Mims, SK (1993). "Teacher Residency at Fallingwater". Experiencing Architecture. 45–46: 19–24.
  34. ^ "Fallingwater". Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  35. ^ "Frank Lloyd Wright. Fallingwater, Edgar J. Kaufmann House, Mill Run, Pennsylvania. 1934–37 – MoMA". www.moma.org. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  36. ^ "Edgar J. Kaufmann Charitable Fund – The Pittsburgh Foundation". pittsburghfoundation.org. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  37. ^ "Behind Fallingwater: How Pa. became home to one of Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest works". PennLive.com. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  38. ^ "The Kaufmann Family – Fallingwater". Fallingwater. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  39. ^ a b "Preservation History – Fallingwater". Fallingwater. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  40. ^ "Preservation History – Fallingwater". Fallingwater. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  41. ^ Saffron, Inga (September 8, 2002). "To keep Fallingwater from falling down". Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine. pp. 13–15.
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Further reading