Paul's Perambulations a personal blog

April 9, 2010

Why I love/hate Wright’s Fallingwater

Filed under: General — admin @ 7:14 pm

It’s a fascinating structure, folks fawn over it, but there is a dark side.

I have long had a love/hate relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. It is a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. But the waterfall cannot be appreciated from the building that covers it, and the building hardly benefits from the constraints imposed on it by being built over a waterfall. The design is creative, and the house is attractive to look at from a distance particularly due to its novel placement. But is the structure best regarded for being novel or as a novelty? Although attractive in its setting, it is utterly unsatisfactory from an engineering perspective, and not much better in its livability quotient. Call it great art if you wish, but as a house, it’s a failure. As Wright originally designed it, modern engineers consider the main cantilever to have been doomed to failure. It was reinforced at the time without Wright’s consent and thus did not catastrophically fail, but it has been enormously expensive to save it over the intervening years. The famous cantilever balconies are off limits to groups due to safety concerns. Moisture problems are endemic on everything metal, especially cooking and electrical services, and mildew is rampant. It many ways it is an environmental disaster representative of man’s misguided attempt to control and constrain nature. It “looks” natural, but the design doesn’t work well and thus is aesthetically displeasing to those who value structural function as much as form.

Standing on your head may be considered more noteworthy than standing on your feet. But is it better or just attention getting? One can build a house over a stream at the bottom of a waterfall and have a better experience both of nature and of housing. But Wright, focused only on getting a notable house, determined to enhance the appearance of his house by including a waterfall under it, and not to concern himself with a getting a spectacular view of a waterfall by building a functional house at the foot of it.

Have you seen a pre-house view of the waterfall? Gorgeous. Nature provides such beauty free of charge, but we pay others to deface this beauty in order to satisfy our material longings. Such attempts to subdue/tame nature can serve to effectively destroy nature. Nature enchained is no longer nature.

1 Comment »

  1. My wife’s comment on a slightly earlier draft of the first comment:

    I think you have to reach a little harder for the nugget of truth in the last paragraph? Is a man in prison, or a slave not a man? He might not be free, but he’s still a man. Nature contained is not destroyed, but slowly its awesome strengths gather until there’s a tipping point. Nature is winning against Fallingwater. There are scars and some things are destroyed and will never regenerate when man tries to subdue/tame nature (mountain faces in strip mining, for example), but nature is not destroyed and it will win out. The DESIRE pits us against nature, but the practice of using nature is as much a part of humans’ nature as it is a part of the other animals. We’re digging the drainage channel, which alters the flow of water, which is natural but had previously been altered due to human activity. But we’re also gardening, which is something almost all humans due to a greater or lesser extent. Even the gatherers have their effect, and some plants need to be disturbed by grazing for their most efficient reproduction. I don’t think that we disagree, but rather, as usual, we’re coming at it from slightly different angles. But when you infer a general truth, it has to fit from different angles. Definitely there’s scarring and defacement in man’s attempt to conquer nature. It’s the whole concept of doing battle and conquest that’s wrong. Ultimately no one wins and there are often unintended consequences that turn the tables on the presumed winner.

    Comment by admin — April 9, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

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