Saturday, June 4, 2011

Books and Fallingwater

Books in the Woods?

During my travels to the great state of Pennsylvania, I ventured slightly off the beaten path and drove into the hill and wood country southwest of Pittsburgh to perhaps the most famous private home in America: Frank Lloyd Wright's "organically" designed "Fallingwater." It was an incredibly wet day, torrential downpours swept across the southern part of the state. My reservation for the afternoon tour was canceled, but I received a message while still digging through archives back in Pittsburgh that "...even if we've canceled your tour, you can come by to see if the rain has let up, and we may be able to re-schedule you." I decided it was worth a shot, and left the glorious libraries of Pittsburgh for the wilderness of the south.

Luckily, the storms had faded, even though it was still raining. And the eventually re-scheduled the tour. Fallingwater is quite a place. Perhaps my greatest surprise about it was how small the actual home feels (and is). Despite the floor plan and cantilever construction, the inside of the home has a rather small feel to it. This may be partly due to Wright's own feeling toward designing homes with shorter ceilings, constrained hallways, narrow door frames, and broad rooms based on linearity. There's a quote from Wright that is often tossed around and I've heard variations of it at both Talliessen in Wisconsin and here at Fallingwater. The quote is something like "Anything over 6 feet is a waste of space," which figures into the cramped feeling of many of his homes. The image above is a stream-fed swimming pool that is adjacent to the home and has a bulbous Buddha-like sculpture dancing nearby.

Now on to our usual "digression" of books! Photographs are not allowed inside the home, so I was only able to photograph around and outside of it. Luckily, there are many windows, and here we find the only image of books at the residence itself. The bookshelves were designed nicely in the house, I thought. Each unit was made to fit in a space that was usually lower to the ground than, say, chest or eye level. It added to the manipulation of space that Wright was aiming for. There were books on every floor, and the tour groups were told that the former owners, the department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann Sr. and his family, had kept most of their books and furnishings in the home. And most were titles dating from the 1940s-1960s.

The lovely grounds above. Below we find the book and gift shop, located near the parking lot and entrance to the grounds.

It would seem that if books were to go out of style one day, as so many have predicted, because of the e-text, for example, I'd have to say that the combination of "book and gift" shops will remain. Partly because of the role that the book plays "as a gift." I'm not convinced that people are yet ready to accept "virtual gifts" as substitutes. I remember interviewing someone for my library school thesis about the role that books played in our world. The interviewee made a comment that "books as gifts" are special and particular aspects of our society and culture that could not be replicated in e-format. The person explicitly noted "that would be cheap." Something to think about, for sure.

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