It only seemed appropriate that while we were experiencing the loveliness of southern Pennsylvania that we should visit one of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpieces: Fallingwater. This weekend retreat for the Kaufmanns, a wealthy Pittsburgh family who owned a department store, is a perfect reflection of the area that we are peddling through as it uses all local material.
The genius of Wright is evident immediately upon entering the grounds. Rather than change the building site to suit a preconceived notion of comfort, he created a retreat from the smoke and smog of 1930s industrial Pittsburgh by adapting his ideas to accommodate what nature had presented him. For example, rather than position the house to take the best view of the falls at Bear Run, the stream that cascades through the property, he integrated the house into the falls, making it and the music of the water part of the living experience. An indication of his desire to let things remain was a feature in the back of the house that bent a support member around a tree to keep it rather than cut it down.
He forced the Kaufmanns to live in the environment rather than separate it from them. The stairs in the living room leading down to a pool that feeds the falls is one of many examples of how he flipped conventional wisdom and created what has been termed "organic architecture."
The materials for the house are local: black walnut (veneer and solid) for all the woodwork; sandstone for floors and core supporting structures that was quarried less than 500 yards away; and existing outcroppings of rock that became an integral part of the structure. It was as if Wright was taking us on a nature walk though the illusion of a house. The way he created the house and its paths was no different than the way the GAP was built: in a simple fashion that worked with the existing environment rather than against it.
If you closed your eyes, walking though Fallingwater was somewhat like biking next to the Yough: in some areas you get a quiet muffle from a smooth running river and in others you hear the roar of rapids and water smashing its way through. But you never forget that water is near and is music to your ears.