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My Two Favourite Frank Lloyd Wright Houses

Built in 1935, Fallingwater is Wright’s crowning achievement in organic architecture and the American Institute of Architects’ “best all-time work of American architecture.” Its owners, Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, were a prominent Pittsburgh couple, reputed for their distinctive sense of style and taste.

They met Wright in 1934, when their son, Edgar Jr. spent six months in the Taliesin Fellowship.

Knowing that Wright shared their love of nature, they commissioned him to build a summer home for the family’s weekend retreat in Bear Run, PA. Wright recognized that his clients wanted something that would celebrate the landscape of their favourite country hideaway in an innovative way. Determined to build over the stream that punctuated the property, Wright remarked that rather than simply look out at it, he wanted the Kaufmanns “to live with the waterfall…as an integral part of [their] lives.”

In Fallingwater, Wright anchored a series of reinforced concrete “trays” to the natural rock. Cantilevered terraces of local sandstone blend harmoniously with the rock formations, appearing to float above the stream below. The first floor entry, living room and dining room merge to create one continuous space, while a hatch door in the living room opens to a suspended stairway that descends to the stream below. Glass walls further open the rooms to the surrounding landscape. In 1938, Wright designed additional guest quarters set into the hillside directly above the main house and linked by a covered walkway. Fallingwater remained the family’s beloved weekend home for 26 years. In 1963 the Kaufmanns donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, together with 1,543 acres of surrounding land. It opened its door as a museum in 1964 and has since hosted more than five million visitors.

“Great architecture, like any great art, ultimately takes you somewhere that words cannot take you at all. Fallingwater does that the way Chartres Cathedral does that. There’s some experience that gets you in your gut and you just feel it, and you can’t quite even say it. My whole life is dealing with architecture and words, and at the end of the day, there is something that I can’t entirely say when it comes to what Fallingwater feels like.” — Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic

The Ennis House, built in 1924—a veritable Hollywood icon, with over 80 screen appearances—is the last and largest of Wright’s four Los Angeles-area “textile block” houses.

Perched atop a hill in the Los Feliz neighbourhood, it is among the best residential examples of Mayan Revival architecture in the country. The Ennis House rises in stages, with over 27,000 blocks arranged across a concrete platform and buttressed by a retaining wall. Though concrete was still considered a new material in the 1920s, especially for home construction, Wright believed it had promising potential for affordable housing. He created a block construction system with patterned surfaces, which lended a unique textural appearance to both the exteriors and interiors of his residences. The concrete—a combination of gravel, granite and sand from the site—was hand-cast in aluminium molds to create blocks measuring 16”x 16” x 3.5” that were then woven together with steel rods, giving the textile block houses their name. The Ennis House is unusually monumental and vertical for a Wright residence, but when the architect completed it in 1924 he immediately considered it his favourite.

As with all of Wright’s textile block residences, the Ennis House featured a custom designed pattern. Within the interlocking form, the Greek key design resembles a stylized “g”— perhaps an allusion to the Masonic order that Charles Ennis belonged to, which had an organizational symbol of a compass with the letter “g” for God at its centre. Due to its exoticism, the house has served as the backdrop in numerous films, commercials and tv shows including Mulholland Drive, The Rocketeer, Rush Hour, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Predator 2, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Blade Runner. The home sustained serious damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and torrential rains of 2005. Privately owned by billionaire, Ron Burkle, it is undergoing a complete restoration and is currently closed to the public.

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