We’re thankful that our team at Blakstad Architects and Design Consultants do not work in the same way as Frank Lloyd Wright. Wait. We’re also thankful that our team at Blakstad Architects and Design Consultants strive to be as creative as Frank Lloyd Wright but to live with much more, let’s say, humility and a lot less relational destruction. As they say, never meet your heroes.
While his life and loves were riven with woe and tragedy – some self-made and others imposed – the man’s work and legacy are truly remarkable. There are myriad Wright designs worthy of contemplation and myriad more sketches that never came to fruition but show a uniquely calibrated and otherworldly creativity. Of all the structures he built over his 70-year career, it is probably Falling Water that is the most intriguing and the most influential to budding architects. For Blakstad architect, Marta Riera Riambau, it is one of her favourite buildings.
Falling Water was built for Edgar J. Kaufmann, a Pittsburgh kingpin, director of Kaufmann’s Department Store, philanthropist and architecture nut (his only son apprenticed with Wright and became a professor of architecture and art history at Columbia University). It was a project that almost didn’t happen. After months of chasing Wright for plans, a frustrated Kaufmann rang the maestro at home on a Sunday morning to announce he would be arriving in a matter of hours. While his team of apprentices looked on anxiously, Wright calmly finished his breakfast, cleared his desk and completed a fully realised sketch in the time it took Kaufmann to arrive – approximately two hours.
Originally Kaufmann thought the house would be positioned to take in the view of the waterfall running through his property, but when he took in Wright’s plan to make the building part of the water, he saw a new way of experiencing architecture and nature. Falling Water is the archetypal container for Wright’s concept of an organic architecture, an architecture that ‘belonged where you see it standing and was a grace to the landscape’. Few projects encapsulate this philosophy so thoroughly.
There’s no doubt that every architect and indeed, every member of the Blakstad team has studied Falling Water at some point but for Marta Riera Riambau it is a symbol of everything she believes architecture should attempt to achieve. “It’s an interpretation of nature’s principles, it’s always fascinated me,” she says. “The way it blends with nature, creating the effect of being part of it. It transmits so much peace and tranquillity.”
Heavily influenced by Japanese architecture, Falling Water is made up of a series of concrete cantilevered ‘trays’ suspended over the rushing water. Pottsville sandstone quarried on-site is used for both floors and walls while glass and concrete make up the rest of the design. While the floors are polished to an understated gleam, the enormous fireplace and five-and-a-half metre tall chimney is left untreated, mimicking the natural rock formation surrounding the house. Expansive floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning views of the forest and waterfall and the design encompasses the delightful soundscape of rushing water.
One of the most unique features of Falling Water is its integrated water features. The master bedroom has a balcony that overlooks a small reflecting pool built into the house, while another bedroom has a terrace that opens directly onto a section of the waterfall and the guest quarters feature a spring-fed swimming pool overflowing to the stream below. Integration with the outside world is manifested in every aspect of the house; glass windows and any horizontal dividers are driven into caulked recesses in the stonework so that the walls and windows appear uninterrupted meaning the views are unbroken by steel frames. The colour palette is limited to just three shades – light ochre for the concrete, natural stone and Wright’s signature red iron oxide for the steel.
Wright’s principles of organic architecture are a cornerstone for Blakstad’s outlook. “The meaning of architecture is to create a quality of life and transform functional spaces into art,” says Riambau, asserting an architecture using nature as a starting point is essential in her own practice and within all Blakstad designs. As is evident in the projects featured on this very website, Wright’s legacy continues to inspire and influence.