Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater
Our sons have always had some unusual interests. At three year old they became obsessed with bridges. To this day we have no idea why. Their bridge obsession slowly morphed into an obsession with ships. This one we understood- ships went under bridges. They had a full on love affair with the Titanic, requesting a Titanic cake for their fourth birthday which caused my husband and I to pause and wonder if it too soon. We decided enough time had passed and designed a Titanic birthday cake complete with iceberg and a false smokestack. Their obsession with ships transformed into an obsession with skyscrapers and architecture and somehow that led them to fall truly, madly and deeply in love with Frank Lloyd Wright.
At the time our sons were four, so not expected to be in school. My husband and I had been studying them, watching how they learned when left to their own devices. They needed to be totally and completely intellectually saturated in whatever it is they were interested in. Books, coloring pages, documentaries, made up trivia games- whatever we could put in front of them they would devour. But we quickly learned their eyes lit up the brightest when we took them straight to the source. Se we went to Oak Park, Illinois to visit Wright’s home and studio. We walked the tree lined streets of his hometown where he designed more than two dozen houses and buildings. (I highly recommend doing this in the fall when the colors change!) We drove into Chicago to see the Robie House, their all-time favorite. Shortly after visiting, they began begging for the Lego Robie House. It was the one and only thing they wanted for Christmas. They were 4 years old. Curious to see if they could actually put the darn thing together, my sister made all their dreams come true on Christmas morning. I’ll be damned, they placed every single piece- all 2,276 of them- with their own tiny fingers.
Next they became infatuated with Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. A dear friend gifted them this Lego set a few months later and once again they placed every piece entirely on their own. They dreamed of visiting Fallingwater but at the time they were not old enough. For the basic guided house tour, no guests under six years old are permitted. The more in depth tours require guests to be nine years old. So we had to wait.
This past weekend our boys’ dream finally came true. We had to take a quick road trip to Brooklyn, New York and we decided to break up the trip with a stop at Fallingwater. Our plans almost unraveled when our oldest twin was admitted to the hospital for complications with his heart condition the day before we were supposed to hit the road. Thankfully he stabilized quickly and we were still able to leave the next day, albeit seven hours later than expected. We had to abandon Fallingwater on the way there and our boys were devastated. We promised to squeeze it in on the way back which led to loud cheers with little feet jumping and fists pumping into the air!
Of all the things our boys had learned (and taught us) about Fallingwater, there was one very important piece of information we all missed. When visiting Fallingwater, you need to go old school and map out your directions. While my husband and I knew we were driving into rural Pennsylvania, somehow it didn’t cross our minds that we’d lose cell phone service! We laughed at ourselves, at how totally dependent we had become on navigation technology. There was some signage that kept us on the right track (but not much so don’t miss it!) and though it was a touch stressful, we found ourselves enjoying the fact that we were forced to look up and navigate our own way. Luckily the visitors center has little cards that will help get guests back out to the freeway after visiting!
Guided House Tour
Given that the boys are only eight years old, we opted for the guided house tour which cost $30 per adult and $18 per child age 6-12. The tickets themselves actually cost $28 and $16 respectively, but they do add a $2 service charge to each ticket so the cost given on their website reflects this. This tour is one hour long and photography is not permitted in the house. This caught me a bit off guard as I love taking photos and documenting our boys’ adventures, but in all honesty, I ended up being grateful. Just like losing our GPS and having to rely on our own sense of direction, it was quite refreshing to not have a camera in my hands. Instead I was able to just live in the moment, forced to focus harder on all the details in order to take mental pictures and convert them to memories.
When we gathered with our tour group, I saw a few people eye our boys nervously. At only 3’11” tall, they look to be about five or six years old. If I saw them walk up to my tour group, I’d probably be nervous too. There’s a short walk, about a quarter of a mile, down a beautiful path to reach the house. The boys were so full of excitement that they skipped and hopped their way down the path, quite literally jumping for joy. We let them skip, hop, and jump the whole length of the path, despite one man continuing to eye them cautiously. Our boys have an incredible amount of energy. Some would call it excessive but to me that implies they are “too much” and I don’t believe in telling a child they are “too much” of anything. With our boys, excitement is expressed through kinetic energy. So we’ve learned that instead of saying it is “too much”, we need to find a time and place to allow them to let that energy out. Walking the path to the house was the perfect time and place and, as we’ve learned from past experience, by the time we arrived they were ready to take their deep breaths and stand still to listen to our guide as she began our tour.
For the next hour, they listened attentively to our guide at each spot in the house she stopped to talk. The temperature had climbed above 90 degrees that day and the house isn’t air conditioned so the heat placed an extra strain on our attention spans, yet they hung on our guide’s every word. There were hand fans at the bottom of the steps to the second floor which provided some relief and the boys enjoyed pretending they were living in the house in the 1930’s and the fans were the only way they had to cool themselves! Fanning themselves as we walked through the house, they delighted in discovering all of the horizontal lines, circles and semi-circles, and cantilevers everywhere they looked. Many were pointed out by our guide, but there were so many more for the boys to discover on their own. They also enjoyed connecting our locations as we moved throughout the house to their Lego set and it didn’t take long for our guide (or the guy who was no doubt fearful that the two kids energetically skip hopping their way down the path to the house might ruin his tour experience) to realize that our boys knew more about Fallingwater than everyone but the guide herself. Thankfully she did know much more than our boys had already learned. They lapped up all of the new details and stories while trying to contain their excitement. For example, they were delighted to discover that the Kaufman’s had Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera as guests in the house. A number of Rivera’s paintings, along with a few of Picasso’s hung throughout the house. Even Albert Einstein had been a guest. Learning that so many of their favorite people had all been in this very place they were standing was enough to cause them each to let out a little squeal of delight each time our guide revealed such information.
The tour ended in the car park, which has now been converted into a “garage” that hosts a small indoor seating area. Even this area has unique stories about it- tidbits about Frank Lloyd Wright himself that paint a mental picture of who he was as a man and an architect. The boys picked up on these stories throughout the tour, tying them all together to develop a better sense of who their favorite architect was. This room is also the only spot in the house with air conditioning which was very welcomed on our 90+ degree day. Here a member of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy explains a bit about how they acquired Fallingwater and the continued work they do to preserve the house for future generations. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk with our boys about conservation, preservation and why these things are so important. We had some excellent discussions about science and history, talking about how the very materials Wright used to build Fallingwater in its iconic location meant the Kauffman’s were fighting an uphill battle against the humidity and moisture of the falls from the moment the house was completed until present day, a task now undertaken by the Conservancy.
As the tour ended and we departed the air conditioned garage to explore the grounds, the gentleman who had just an hour earlier eyed our sons with suspicion turned our way and gave them a smile. It was a proud moment for my husband and I. Not because we were proud of our boys for carrying themselves so well throughout the tour that this man gave them a smile (though proud we were), but because I hoped we had shared something important with this gentleman. I hope we shared something my husband and I believe very strongly in- that children should be given opportunities to rise, to show what they are capable of, because they are truly capable of so much more than we often expect of them. We’ve never limited our boys’ interest to “kid things” but instead we’ve exposed them to as many interesting things as possible, allowing them to choose which ones they wish to pursue. And then we follow their lead. I wish I could have shared with this gentleman that we didn’t choose to bring our sons to Fallingwater. They brought us. But as we walked out and he continued to smile as the boys raced excitedly up the path, I had a feeling that maybe he knew.