Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Its fame has even doomed its description, “an icon of American architecture,” to status as a cliche, but Frank Lloyd Wright’s woodland retreat in south­eastern Fayette County, between Mill Run and Ohiopyle, for Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann and his wife Liliane has earned such hyperbole with its dramatic design and siting. Few may realize it, but Fallingwater – clearly one of the most inventive hous­es of the twentieth centu­ry – was designed by Wright when he was approaching seventy. More important, the commission signaled a revival of the architect’s reputation in the mid-1930s, after years of critical neglect, and opened a new chapter in American architecture.

Edgar Kaufmann commissioned Wright to design a weekend house to replace a rudimentary cottage that he and Liliane had built in 1921 on Bear Run, a craggy mountain stream on heavily forested property they later purchased in 1933. He met Wright in 1934 when his son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., was enrolled in the architect’s famous Tal­iesin Fellowship in Madison, Wisconsin, where apprenticeships offered students the opportunity to work in Wright’s drafting room.

Wright’s choice of location for Fallingwater has been characterized as bold, daring, even brave. His vision was extraordinary. While Kaufmann expected the house to be built south of the stream, with a view of the falls from below, Wright’s plan called for it to be sited above the falls. “I want you to live with the waterfall, not to just look at it, but for it to become an integral part of your lives,” he told his client.

Countless articles, essays, critiques, reviews, and books have been devoted to examining virtually every square inch of Fallingwater in attempts to analyze its style, influences, and building techniques. Built of reinforced concrete, native sandstone, steel sash, and glass (at a cost of seventy-five thousand dollars), Fallingwater exemplifies Wright’s concept of organic architecture: its cantilevered terraces soar over the waterfall that inspired its design. Architectural historians and critics do agree on one point: Fallingwater is a brilliant experiment resolutely proving that mankind can coexist, in harmony and in peace, with nature. “Its beauty remains fresh like that of the nature into which it fits,” said Edgar Kauf­mann Jr. in 1963, when he gave the house and more than fifteen hundred acres to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Fallingwater is not merely a building, but it is also a work of art. On Monday, October 23 [2000], the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will formally designate the architectural masterpiece a “Commonwealth Treasure,” the fourth since the recognition program began in 1997. (Previous recipients are Brandywine Bat­tlefield, 1997; State Capitol Building, 1998; and Meadow­croft Rock Shelter, 1999.) The PHMC is recognizing Falling­water for its international significance and its special connection to Pennsylvania’s history, as well as for its need for continuing protection and preservation.

To learn more, write: Falling­water, P.O. Box R, Mill Run, PA 15464-0167; telephone (724) 329- 8501; or visit the Fallingwater website.