Well, just look what my interlocutor has selected in a blatant attempt to steal our wee show! For the second of his five favourites exhibited here at Not PC, Den MT has chosen ... well, just take a look what he's gone and chosen, this chap who maintains that my taste and his are galaxies apart. (Frankly, I would have thought this masterpiece far too 'unfashionable' for today's young Gen-Y trendies -- but I'm enormously pleased it isn't).
I give you, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, on Bear Run, Pennsylvania:
Says Den of this selection:
I have, no doubt, gazumped PC on this one [yes, he has], as it is probably not far from the top five buildings of anyone interested in architecture. Gotta be quick!
It was designed as the private holiday house for Edgar Kaufmann, in a sum total of three hours, if rumour [and the testimony of Wright's apprentices who assisted] is to be believed.
This building, for me, is an outstanding example of two crucial aspects of architecture - response to site, and narrative.
In describing the importance of considering site, one of my old lecturer's made reference to the 'genius locus,' or 'sense' of a place, and that good architecture necessarily involved invoking this concept. Basically a flash way of saying that the best buildings respond sympathetically and are in part 'created' by their site or context. With Fallingwater, FLW created a structure that was an incredibly sensitive response to what is a beautiful natural setting for a country getaway spot. The formal elements of the house all invoke the specific stand-out features of the site - the waterfall, the rock masses, the glades of trees encircling the site - in a truly original and sensitive way, that transcends a simple formal 'copy' of the surrounds. His use of materials further cements this feeling of unity with the site - building and site are inextricably linked - almost interdependent.
On the second aspect - narrative - I return to another of my old lecturers, Russell Walden (forever famous for his frothing tirade against Te Papa on Backchat with Bill Ralston) who was totally enamoured with this building. One of his traditional exam questions for first year architectural history students was based on a lecture he always gave, and involved relating Fallingwater to one of Beethoven's symphonies. Old Russell may have been a bit loopy (put mildly) and I disagree with such a didactic comparison, but the succession of spaces - both internal and external - in Fallingwater, create an undeniable narrative. The story told by each space, from the moments on the exterior where the visitor must gingerly step over rushing water to the 'safety' of the house, to instances inside, such as communal living spaces with riverstone jutting from the floor, all combine to create a palpable sense of narrative.
FLW majorly overreached himself technically on this project, which began falling apart almost from the moment the roof went on* (due largely to his over-ambitious cantilevers and shortcomings of the materials used at the time) and his cost control was as atrocious as ever, blowing his client's budget by a factor of FIVE, but it perseveres as probably the most famous house ever, for good reason. The understanding of site is virtually unparalleled, and the narrative created by the interconnected spaces is extraordinarily powerful.
Cheers, Den MT
* Ahem. We have slightly different information on this score. I outline my own understanding of some of the many canards held against Fallingwater here and here.