Pennsylvania to renovate Fallingwater

March 28, 2000|By Philadelphia Inquirer

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, the architectural masterpiece built over a picturesque Pennsylvania waterfall and one of the state's premier tourist attractions, will receive $3.5 million in state funds to help prevent a sagging terrace from crashing into the cascading waters below, Gov. Thomas Ridge announced last week.

The state money will help pay for a comprehensive renovation, estimated to cost more than $8 million, of the historic home. Built in 1936 for a wealthy merchant, the retreat in the Appalachian hills marked Wright's embrace of modernism and is considered one of the best examples of modern domestic architecture anywhere.

Ridge told a news conference that he was allocating money from the state's capital budget because "aside from being an architectural jewel, Fallingwater has quickly become an important player in our tourism industry."

Despite Fallingwater's remote wooded-mountainside location in the hamlet of Mill Run, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the house and grounds are a mecca for visitors. More than 145,000 tourists made the pilgrimage to Fallingwater in 1999, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year.

The house, an essay in horizontal planes, is perhaps most famous for those terraces, which appear to float over the frothing waterfall in defiance of the laws of physics. By draping the house between a boulder and the falls, Wright integrated the building into its environment in a way that was completely new.

In designing Fallingwater, Wright chose to construct the terraces from concrete, making him among the first to use the material in a residential structure. In 1994, an engineering student preparing a thesis on the building discovered that the terraces were actually unsound.

Before renovations can start, the conservancy needs to raise an additional $1 million to $1.5 million, said director Lynda S. Waggoner. The group has already collected $3.8 million from private sources, in addition to the state grant.

Most of the repairs will be done during the winter, when Fallingwater is closed to visitors. The work will be carried out in phases over five years.

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