Fallingwater

I never imagined that a building could evoke tears.

Until today, when I visited Fallingwater.

If you know me well, you are probably thinking it was something else.

Like the fact that we were on our way home from dropping my eldest off at college to start her freshman year.

Or my sister’s recent cancer diagnosis, difficult surgery and more to come chemo.

Or our family’s coming to terms with the fact that we have been unable to save my mother from her chronic pain or failing memory and must now make difficult decisions about where she will live.

But you would be wrong.

Yes, all those things have been going on lately. And while they certainly explain why I haven’t been blogging, they are not why I cried this afternoon.

I cried because this building, this home, this marvel of cantilevered concrete, steel and glass was so beautiful, so ingenious, so damned glorious that I could find no other response than tears.

How could I not cry, when the sudden downpour that began during our tour, a cascade of water from the sky that poured down around us as we walked under the covered walkway to the guesthouse so that we felt that we were actually within a water fall, turned into a radiant sun shower and then stopped just as we stepped out onto the highest terrace?

Or when I learned that Wright was 67 years old and at the low point of his career when he designed Fallingwater and at an age when most of us would be heading to retirement, he jump started the second half of his career, the half in which he created some of his most memorable designs, including the Guggenheim?

Or when I stood in the woods later, looking at that famous view of Fallingwater that we all know, and realized that man, when he does it right, can actually enhance nature rather than destroy it?

There are those who will say that Fallingwater as it was initially conceived and built was not perfect, and they would be correct. The concrete cantilevers needed steel reinforcements Wright had not planned, as did the stairs. Cracks appeared in the main level flooring almost immediately and as it continued to sag over the years, they threatened to bring the building down. But Fallingwater was saved – not by restoring the cantilever to its original position, but by stabilizing it where it had settled. As a result the building is slightly different, but stronger and just as beautiful as when it was first built.

As I write this, I feel as if I am again standing on the concrete cantilever at Fallingwater, and can feel the forces of gravity and counter tension pulling upon me.

I’ve survived my daughter’s senior summer and the move into the dorms with our relationship now settled into something different, but intact – better even, for the transition.

And as for my larger family – my eight sibs, my parents and I – we are learning that, despite our numbers, we are not invincible. Like Wright’s folded concrete cantilevers, we have sustained a crack or two. Already we are finding ourselves changed, settling into a different place than before, and will need some reinforcement and some shoring up as we go on.

But we will go on, strong and beautiful as ever.

23 Responses to Fallingwater

  1. Isn't that an incredible building? I've only seen pictures, but I've been lucky enough to see some others in person.

    Congrats on sending your daughter off to school. I wish her much fun and lots of studying!

    I'm sorry to hear about your sister and mother. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  2. I've never seen this building – I've never even heard of it (should I admit that out loud do you think??!!), so I look at it with totally virgin eyes. Yes, it's totally beautiful; it nestles in it's surroundings quietly encouraging folk near, rather than shouting at them to Approach Not!
    My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your family.

  3. Your description is perfect – it's interesting that this house would so mirror what's going on in your life. Thinking of all of you during this transition and, yes, you will go on strong and beautiful as ever.
    A Fan in Chicagoland

  4. Lovely post. Sorry to hear about all the family issues. I'm going through it with my dad right now too, and it's not easy. But we do get through it, and hopefully learn some things about ourselves too.

  5. daughter's a junior, so we have done the dropping off at college thing. today we took her to the airport for a year abroad. it would have been a good idea to go see something beautiful and with falling water.

  6. wow! beautiful place, where is this place exactly? is it in New York?

    i love your blog by the way, I stumbled upon it some time back. It is very informative and creative, and I thank you for sharing your thoughts. It sounds as if there are a lot of personal/family issues going on as well, and my prayers go out to you and your family. My youngest is in her senior year, and college bound too! it's an exciting time! Is she going into med like her mother?

  7. It's the cracks, and the settlement imperfections that give both the structure and the people all of the good character. Perfection is boring…

    Hang in there.

  8. Since I've been a little girl, my ambition is to see Falling Water. I lived in Ireland as a nipper and now reside in England. One day…

    All the best to you and yours.

  9. I understand how you feel; I once dated a girl who went to Florida Southern College, the largest collection of Wright buildings in the world.

    Incidentally, you're the top hit for "manhattan blog", in case you didn't know.

  10. Thinking of you and wishing your family the best. Your writing, however sparce it might be right now, is always a treat when it appears. Post when you can but always remember: family comes first.

  11. It sounds like you all have had a tough time. *hug*

    My thoughts are with you.

    And that is a beautiful building. I'd love to go see it sometime.

  12. I've been to Falling Water and the place is REALLY amazing! The blend of nature and architecture is just perfect!

    Stay strong Dr. P!!! *hugs*

  13. Just re-read for inspiration, Peggy. I hope things are well with you and yours, particularly your mother and sister, but also your fresher daughter.

    Sending you an across the ocean hug.

  14. This is a beautiful post.

    I have never heard of this building… but would love to see it.

    it's interesting how it parallels your life..at least the way in which you've written in your post.

    I am sorry for these challenges you are working through and I know they are not easy… but you have a wonderful attitude… and all are blessed to have each other.

  15. I stumbled across this post. I’ve visited Fallingwater several times and what I come away with is the internal intimacy I feel inside the living room and the little sleeping and reading alcoves. When touring the home its hard to not get rushed, but what the rooms require is to sit within them for a good length of silence. At home in New York I own a book that traces Fallingwater’s imigination and construction and another fascinating little book by a man who built a complicated model of it for the Museum Of Modern Art, every surface and corner.

  16. I’m planning a trip in June. I’m even more excited to go now that I’ve re-read your post. Have you visited Russel Wrights’ house? http://www.russelwrightcenter.org
    We collect his ceramics and furniture – picked our house in Baltimore around this mid century modern look. Worth a look.

    • Carrie –

      You will love Fallingwater! I recommend while you are there, must-see Kentuck Knob and bike the Ohiopyle rail trail. We stayed at the Summit Inn which is a wonderful throwback place to stay.

      Have not seen Russel White, will add to our to-do list!

      Peggy

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