Jess Recalls Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

Even though I grew up with an architect as a father (Lee) and down the street from Taliesin West, I cannot exactly pinpoint when I initially heard about Frank Lloyd Wright or experienced one of his buildings. He was just always there. His lessons about scale, proportion, and entry experience were naturally in the background of my built environment.

I do, however, remember the first time I was awed by a Frank Lloyd Wright building. I was 10 and on a family reunion trip in Ohio. Fallingwater was a half day in a car away, so my dad and I packed up and took off before the sun, or anyone else was up.

My initial impression, at that young age, was how Fallingwater felt like living in a tree house; one with nature for all the good and bad. The day was cold, but the view was spectacular. I distinctly recall hearing the birds chirping and the water rushing. The main room was warm from the central hearth. It felt perfect for my size, but my tall dad looked squashed by the low ceilings. I could have stayed in the room all day with the cozy “nooked” furniture, staring at the amazing view of trees.

The exterior decks appeared to float and made me nervous to walk to the edge. The home was in some disrepair at the time, which seemed sad, but its inspiration and beauty shined through the cracks. This was the moment I realized the potential of residential architecture, and how it could spark emotions without me needing a connection to the owners.

In my architectural practice at Urban Design Associates, Wright’s lessons are always present. His great skill with the “entry experience” is particularly important.  He never let visitors walk straight to a front door and, wham, there is the entire public space of the house. It should always be an experience, a welcoming to a special space with a series of gardens, lowered ceilings, walls, frames or other interventions to give the visitor an idea of what is to come.

Wright’s integration of site and structure, as I experienced at Fallingwater, was unparalleled. One of his quotes stuck with me, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” He had great respect for the natural environment and its forces. My dad also instilled this in me, about architecture and life in general.

My father coined “Organic Pueblo” from the study of FLW’s original “organic” architecture.  Buildings should grow from the land in form and function. Lee’s signature Organic Pueblo style incorporates traditional native southwest architecture, current southwest indoor/outdoor lifestyle, and Wright’s concepts of working with the natural terrain.

Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright – Photograph by Robert P Ruschak