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To architecture experts, Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest American architect who ever lived-and one of the greatest the world has ever seen. To those who appreciate nature it's easy to see how the Laurel Highlands magnificent natural landscape inspired Fallingwater - Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous work. But to those interested in understanding the role that nature played in the architectural decisions of Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater tours are not-to-be-missed opportunities in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania.
Fallingwater is one of a trio of Frank Lloyd Wright houses one can visit in the PA Laurel Highlands. Kentuck Knob is a beautiful privately-owned home which embodies Wright's organic architecture and The Duncan House offers the rare opportunity to stay overnight in a Frank Lloyd Wright house.
In 1935, Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann commissioned the noted architect, then in his seventies, to design a summer home. The house was to be built along Bear Run, and was intended to give Kaufmann's family an escape from the city's bustle and heat-a place where they could enjoy the simple comforts of nature. It was to be rustic, airy, and located beside a picturesque waterfall on the property that was a favorite swimming spot for the Kaufmanns and their guests.
The result, completed in 1937, is Fallingwater (often incorrectly referred to as Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water). It is a 20thCentury architectural milestone, celebrated worldwide and named "Best American Building of the Last 125 Years" by the Journal of the American Institute of Architects.
Fallingwater doesn't merely complement the landscape, it becomes one with it. Fully expressing Wright's concept of "organic architecture," the house looks as though it grew naturally out of Bear Run's rocks, trees and water. Basing the structure on three steel-reinforced concrete pads, Wright cantilevered the house over the waterfall. Without relying on any support pillars, Fallingwater projects outward above the shimmering cascade, its form simple, elegant, dramatic, seemingly suspended in mid-air... and yet perfectly integrated into its surroundings.
Little wonder, then, that National Geographic Traveler magazine has named Fallingwater one of its "50 Places of a Lifetime," while Smithsonian Magazine has included it in its list of "28 Places You Should See in Your Lifetime." In the more than seven decades since its completion, it has been visited by millions of people-many of them luminaries. Albert Einstein spent time there, as did the artist Frida Kahlo.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater tours are offered year-round, and the experience will expand you appreciation for more than just Wright's architectural genius. Indeed, Fallingwater transcends mere architecture, fully becoming a work of art. And when you visit, you'll note that it houses works of art by other 20th Century masters, including Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera.
Not far from Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's mountain house, Kentuck Knob sits. Built in the early Fifties on a bluff 2,000 feet above sea level, it stands just below the crest of the mountain with which it shares its name. And facing east, just beyond the home's back terrace, one sees an incredible panorama: a long stretch of the Youghiogheny River Gorge, surrounded by wooded mountainsides.
Again embodying Wright's organic architecture concept, Kentuck Knob features a rich combination of native fieldstone and tidewater red cypress, blended with custom furnishings, handmade ornaments, and expanses of glass. Described as both "dramatic and serene," the exterior almost appears to be part of the mountain itself.
After falling in love with Fallingwater, Bernardine and I.N. Hagan telephoned Frank Lloyd Wright and asked if he would design a house for them. His answer was, "Of course. Come on out."
Created around a series of six-sided grids and centered on a fully functional kitchen, the design for Frank Lloyd Wright's Kentuck Knob banishes typical 90° corners from the home plan. His color palette and the texture of the materials he utilized for the house's interior evoke its Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania setting, bringing the home, its environment and its occupants into natural harmony.
Originally commissioned by I. N. and Bernadine Hagan of Uniontown, Kentuck Knob is presently owned by Lord Peter Palumbo, chair of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1989 to 1994 and a member of the British House of Lords. As an additional delight for visitors, he and Lady Palumbo installed a sculpture garden featuring works by Claes Oldenburg, Andy Goldsworthy and others, as well as an actual section of the Berlin Wall. Follow the wooded path to the secluded garden and take your time enjoying this great collection.
Last but certainly not least is Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House, located in the Polymath Park Resort in Acme. Built in 1957 for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan, it was painstakingly disassembled in 2004 and moved from its original location in Lisle, IL to its present site.
The house reopened in 2007 and today offers visitors a truly unique opportunity: the chance to stay overnight in an actual Frank Lloyd Wright house. When you make a reservation at Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House, you get access to the entire home, not just a specific room. The Duncan House is one of only six Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the entire U.S. that offer overnight lodging.
Typifying Wright's "Usonian" style-his effort, late in life, to create affordable housing in a design language that expressed his distinctive perception of the "American Landscape"-the Duncan House is one of 60 such homes he built in the mid-to-late Fifties. It affords visitors a chance to refresh their spirits in a gorgeous natural setting, and experience Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in a rare and an intimate way.