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Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House [Paperback]

Franklin Toker
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

19 April 2005
Fallingwater Rising is a biography not of a person but of the most famous house of the twentieth century. Scholars and the public have long extolled the house that Frank Lloyd Wright perched over a Pennsylvania waterfall in 1937, but the full story has never been told.

When he got the commission to design the house, Wright was nearing seventy, his youth and his early fame long gone. It was the Depression, and Wright had no work in sight. Into his orbit stepped Edgar J. Kaufmann, a Pittsburgh department-store mogul–“the smartest retailer in America”–and a philanthropist with the burning ambition to build a world-famous work of architecture. It was an unlikely collaboration: the Jewish merchant who had little concern for modern architecture and the brilliant modernist who was leery of Jews. But the two men collaborated to produce an extraordinary building of lasting architectural significance that brought international fame to them both and confirmed Wright’s position as the greatest architect of the twentieth century.

Fallingwater Rising is also an enthralling family drama, involving Kaufmann, his beautiful cousin/wife, Liliane, and their son, Edgar Jr., whose own role in the creation of Fallingwater and its ongoing reputation is central to the story. Involving such key figures of the l930s as Frida Kahlo, Albert Einstein, Henry R. Luce, William Randolph Hearst, Ayn Rand, and Franklin Roosevelt, Fallingwater Rising shows us how E. J. Kaufmann’s house became not just Wright’s masterpiece but a fundamental icon of American life.

One of the pleasures of the book is its rich evocation of the upper-crust society of Pittsburgh–Carnegie, Frick, the Mellons–a society that was socially reactionary but luxury-loving and baronial in its tastes, hobbies, and sexual attitudes (Kaufmann had so many mistresses that his store issued them distinctive charge plates they could use without paying).

Franklin Toker has been studying Fallingwater for eighteen years. No one but he could have given us this compelling saga of the most famous private house in the world and the dramatic personal story of the fascinating people who made and used it.

A major contribution to both architectural and social history.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group; Reprint edition (19 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375710159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375710155
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 16 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent , fascinating book 5 April 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This book details the creation of one of America's most splendid artchitectural masterpieces, the weekend home of the Kaufmann family at Fallingwater near Pittsburgh in the USA. The book is a non-stop entrée into the fascinating juncture of the bourgeouis and the worldy artistes of the 1930's and beyond. The level of historic, scientic, sociol, psychoanalytic insight is truly impresseive. A must-read for those interested in architecture and its connection with society.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In no way just another another book about Wright! 13 Oct 2003
By Kenneth R. Kremer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book was a gold mine of originality and creativity. Franklin Toker scrupulously examines the intriguing chronicles of this architectural icon and those most responsible for its rise to international prominence with unprecedented accuracy and lively narration.
As I have told several people who cringed at the notion of another book regarding Frank Lloyd Wright and his architectural "genius"...this is in no way just another book about Wright!
The book meticulously clarifies the relationships that came to be, as well as the importance of each character and their role in the creation of the house. The author fittingly applauds the architect and patrons for there successful progeny, but brilliantly points out the houses returned value to them.
I, for one, questioned the rationale of another book about Fallingwater; perhaps the most published house in American history. The book captured my attention from the onset, and I felt obligated to rethink my position. This is an ideal first-read for readers who may be virgin to the topic and a fail-safe favorite for the Fallingwater-educated.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meticulous scholarship, a real page-turner 7 Oct 2003
By Kenneth Kolson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
That Franklin Toker has tended to all the scholarly details is evident in the footnotes and photo captions, and it comes through on every page of the narrative itself. Fallingwater Rising is the story of an iconic house, designed by America's greatest architect for Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr., a Jewish merchant whose own fascinating story is told here for the first time. Toker manages to deliver even more than that. Within these pages is a memorable portrait of the clannish and provincial power elite that ran twentieth-century Pittsburgh. Anyone interested in architectural history, the modernist movement, business history, academic ambition (that of Edgar Jr.), or urban history will want to own this riveting and lavishly illustrated book.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Structure, Architect, Client: A Fine History 14 Dec 2003
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Fallingwater is quite out of the way. It was a country house, a weekend retreat, and as such was placed way in the Pennsylvania woods. Yet every year, 140,000 people visit it, and Franklin Toker demonstrates in _Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House_ (Knopf) it is the most-visited home in the United States except for those visited for history or for an association with a personality. People come to see Fallingwater because it is an architectural masterpiece. And yet, as Toker says, "Visiting Fallingwater has only a little to do with architecture and engineering: the quality we perceive here is essentially spiritual." Because of the deep allusions to nature (the most common remark is that the house seems to have been part of the surroundings or to have grown out of them naturally), every visitor from every culture, even one who has no love for modern architecture, finds something appealing in the building. Toker, a professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, obviously loves his topic, but more importantly, he knows not only twentieth-century architectural history but specifically the history of one of the main commercial builders of Pittsburgh.
There is plenty to read about Wright here, but the world knows him well already (though the book does puncture myths, some complimentary and some not). E. J. Kaufmann, however, if known at all is known as the man who built Fallingwater. He was an astute businessman, a Pittsburgh department-store tycoon and philanthropist. Wright needed the house because at the time his reputation had stalled and he had no clients, and Kaufmann needed the house to redress the anti-Jewish snobbery of Pittsburgh. It worked for both sides wonderfully. That does not mean they had an easy relationship. Wright demanded loyalty of his clients, worshipful obedience, and got it much of the time. But Kaufmann was not worshipful, and could not be bullied. After the unalloyed success of Fallingwater, he continued to build personal and commercial structures, sometimes dangling the commission in front of Wright, sometimes getting plans but never building with him again. They were the city Jew and the Midwestern isolationist, and as Toker reflects, it is amazing they accomplished anything at all.
Toker tells all about the most memorable aspect of the design, the overshoot balcony, which was a late addition to the plan. Toker makes plain that Wright had a brilliant and intuitive sense of form and structure, but he was not an engineer, and Fallingwater was imperiled by the start. Only recent reinforcement cables have kept it from falling down. Toker includes a fascinating chapter about the "hype" and the "buzz" that surrounded the house from its beginnings. Wright's friend, Henry Luce, got the building into his own magazines and into newspapers all over the world. Ayn Rand took details of the Fallingwater story and included them transformed into fiction for her novel _The Fountainhead_. A final chapter is devoted to Kaufmann's son, Edgar Junior, who was briefly a student of Wright's (not a happy time for either). He was "an important American aesthete of the twentieth century," but he also cultivated the idea that he was the real spark that got his dad to erect Fallingwater. He may have been deluded or lying, but he did take loving care of the place, donating it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy which makes it accessible to the public. He was himself one of the many sources consulted for this big and well-illustrated volume. Toker is an obvious fan of the house, and of Wright, and of Pittsburgh, and his enthusiasm shows in richness of detail and anecdote in a volume that shows architecture to be surprisingly exciting.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb & Truly Outstanding 29 Oct 2004
By Ping Lim - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
These days, it's a rarity to read an architectural book that is informative and entertaining at the same time. For those that have read materials from Kenneth Frampton, they are probably more cerebral. At times, I also find architectural book either to be shallow (bombarding us with glossy pictures and thus no substance) or too dry for an architectural enthusiast to go all the way. This effort by Franklin Tokler is a reaper, to much my pleasant surprise. He spent almost three years writing this book and the amount of research that he had done is truly outstanding and tangible proofs were all in the book. The book contained facts and relevant photos (both B&W and colour). Franklin digged deeper into the Fallingwater. He investigated the motivation of why Fallingwater gotten built at the first place. He discussed the personalities involved in depth and in length and naturally, we also gotten to read about the other personalities of the time and of their connection to Fallingwater as well. Gosh, there were so many to name but just as a teaser: Diego Riviera, Frida Kahlo, Rockerfeller, Mellon, Richard Neutra, Walter Gropius, Mies van de Rohe, Le Corbusier, disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the list goes on and on. Franklin endeavoured to educate the world that the patron, Kauffman is just as important as Frank Lloyd Wright in the project. That's what I find the most entertaining to read about the uneasy alliance between the patron and the architect. He also disputed the claim by the young sibling of Kauffman that the credit went to him for bring his father and the architect together. Then, there were talk of their collection of arts, their Jews background and how did the American society accept them at that time, and so forth. Then, there were talk about the flawed structural system (particularly the cantilever) and how Fallingwater underwent a quiet suicide, the speculation of the origin of the name of the building itself. The book also went into explaining the rationale of why the house is so endearing to people from all over the world till now and perhaps, there would be another Fallingwater in the making somehow? A book that is written with passion and vigour, paying homage to it with utmost dignity from an author who obviously has been visiting it for hundreds of time (as mentioned). I find Franklin's high spirit contagious and I sincerely recommend this book to all architecture buff. A truly unforgettable experience.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Architect's Review: 1 Jun 2006
By J. Svaicer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I must say that as an architect who has been practicing for over 25 years, I have not read any book quite like this before that reaches so deeply into the creation of a master work such as Fallingwater. I have always "appreciated" FLW work but only recently have more fully understood what he has accomplished and created in built architectural works that to me borders on magical and genius at the same time. The glossy pictures alone only begins to reflect him as the gifted craftsman he represented. Living in Chicago I get to enjoy much of his work all the time. I'm still enjoying the book and must say your work here is amazing and a fitting tribute to an increbible individual and architect. Thanks for the experience. Jack Svaicer
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