Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book Review: Fallingwater

Fallingwater edited by Lynda Waggoner, with photographs by Christopher Little
Rizzoli, 2011
Hardcover, 328 pages

As I type this post, a symposium is being held at the Carnegie Museum of Art on the 75th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, the 1938 house for the Kaufmann family in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. This lavishly illustrated coffee table book on what is considered to be the greatest house of the 20th century is timed to this marker, and it was created by two figures highly knowledgeable of the building: Editor Waggoner is Fallingwater's director and vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and photographer Little previously contributed to a 1986 book on the house, which marked its half-centenary. At the symposium they are joined by contributors to this latest book: academics, authors, curators, and the structural engineer responsible for strengthening the daring cantilevers that are as famous as the water feature upon which the house seems to hover. I'm miles away in New York City, but the event, the book, and their celebration of a house existing long after its architect surely envisioned it lasting, make me wish I could be there. Better yet, they make me wish I was at Fallingwater. Not having experienced the building in person, I feel like I am incomplete as an architect, missing out on one of America's most important pilgrimage spots.

Nevertheless the book provides plenty of imagery to make the reader familiar with this icon of American architecture.Waggoner's "Director's Tour," which takes up the majority of the book, even admits that "there is no substitute for experiencing Fallingwater first hand." Yet her tour, basically captions for Little's large-scale photos, are carefully ordered, and they vividly describe the approach to the house, movement through it and around it. The photos range from expansive views of the house and its rooms to details, like the corner windows, custom desks and other furnishings, and the artwork that sprinkles the house and site. Some of the standout imagery gives readers views not usually published, such as Edward Kaufmann Sr.'s terrace, where stone walls give a castle-like appearance, and the guesthouse up the slope from the main house.

It's not until page 170 in the director's tour that we see the house's "money shot," similar to the one that graces the cover. Understandably that is a view outside the normal experience of the house, so it ends the tour and segues into a series of essays: On the Kaufmanns and Fallingwater; on hearing and seeing one of the most documented houses in history; on the elegant interiors; on the house's relationship with nature; on the strengthening of the building's structure in the mid 1990s; and on the landscape of Bear Run. It might be hard to imagine that anything more could be said about Wright's design (at least two dozen relevant books and dvds can be found at Amazon when searching Fallingwater), but the historical research about something often shrouded in myth is most valuable here. As well, Little's photos that accompany the essays tie the whole book together into an impressive artifact and appreciation of Fallingwater, the architect, and the family who lived in it for 25 years.


  1. Dear John, Thanks for the great review! Can you change my name from Christopher Lee to Christopher Little?!? Best, Christopher

  2. Oh my!! How did that happen?! Thanks for commenting. Fixed it. Best wishes. John

  3. I often wondered what it would be like to write at the built in window desk....beautiful book, thanks for sharing.


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