The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Thursday, July 1, 1999


Architect, merchant shared a vision beyond Fallingwater

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

Wright-Kaufmann lectures, tour set
    These special programs are offered at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, in conjunction with "Merchant Prince and Master Builder: Edgar J. Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright":

  • Architect Edgar Tafel, who was a Wright apprentice, talks about Wright's design methods and his relationship with the Kaufmann family at 6:30 p.m. July 13.

  • Franklin Toker of the University of Pittsburgh explores how Fallingwater became a world-famous house at 2 p.m. Oct. 3.

  • Gallery tours are available to walk-in visitors at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 3 and Tuesdays through Fridays through Aug. 27.
Frank Lloyd Wright and Edgar J. Kaufmann are forever linked in Fallingwater, the house Wright designed for Kaufmann in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands.

But their relationship did not end once construction was complete on this summer home for Kaufmann's family. Kaufmann, his wife, Liliane, and their son, Edgar Jr., returned to Wright with personal and public ideas and commissions for 20 years.

A show of drawings, models, reconstructions and other items at the Carnegie Museum of Art illustrates a collective vision that, had the projects come to pass, would have dramatically changed the look of Pittsburgh, and possibly influenced urban design around the world. Of the 12 commissions, only three were constructed.

"Frank Lloyd Wright and Edgar J. Kaufmann: Merchant Prince and Master Builder" sets out to show the Kaufmanns, who ran the successful Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh, were just as interested in design as Wright, the celebrated architect. Kaufmann believed in the "good design" theory that the appearance of a product mattered equally with practical concerns in attracting buyers. Mrs. Kaufmann based part of the store on Paris designs, and their son wrote about design for years.

Wright designed Kaufmann's private office, which has been dismantled and reconstructed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The largest commission that came to fruition is Fallingwater, an example of Wright's organic design style. The house was built over a waterfall loved by the Kaufmann family and the surrounding landscape played a major role in Wright's plans. During construction, a Wright associate drew up plans showing that if the basement were built according to Wright's design, a tree would have to be felled in order to install a window. Wright decided the tree was more important than the window, and scribbled on the plans, which are in the show, that the window could go.

Wright's interior drawings are thorough in their inclusion of lamps, vases and possible color schemes, although the Kaufmann family's wishes were better represented here. The Kaufmanns rejected some of Wright's ideas, finding them too formal for the mountain get-away they envisioned.

Although Fallingwater, which was opened to the public, was considered a masterpiece by the time construction was complete, it was not something he or Kaufmann considered an untouchable icon. Wright designed a guest house addition that was built shortly after the main building was finished, and was asked to design a gate house and chapel for the property, neither of which were built.

Kaufmann kept Wright busy on other projects. He had Wright design a parking garage for Kaufmann's Department Store, a farm house near Fallingwater for a short-lived Kaufmann obsession with cattle, a house in Palm Springs, Calif., apartment buildings for Pittsburgh's Mount Washington and an urban renewal project of the Point in downtown Pittsburgh, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form the Ohio.

The Palm Springs house might have taken on a fame approaching Fallingwater in its organic design. Roughly S-shaped, the house would have conformed with the rocky terrain and been barely noticeable to an onlooker. The plans likely were scrapped because they favored Mrs. Kaufmann, but the Kaufmann marriage at this time had reached one of its many low points.

Kaufmann brought Wright into the discussion for plans for the Point. Wright's idea foreshadows America's obsession with malls, but was too grandiose for what city fathers thought was appropriate.

Kaufmann, who wanted Pittsburgh to shed its image as a smoky city, was part of a commission that planned ways to get rid of the warehouses and rail yards at the Point.

Some wanted a more green look that commemorated the site's early American history -- an idea that was eventually adopted. Kaufmann wanted a more urban design and asked Wright to incorporate office space, an exhibition hall, a sports arena, a performing arts center and parking lots; Kaufmann wanted all walks of life to mingle at the site.

Wright drew up the Point Civic Center, a monster of a complex including what Kaufmann asked for plus a planetarium, three movie theaters and a two-story underground parking garage. Balloons, blimps and helicopters could land on the roof. Separate facilities at the site would house a zoo and an aquarium. Bridges would take traffic across the river and directly into the complex. Wright called it "a good-time place, a people's place."

This design was soundly rejected and Kaufmann asked Wright to come up with a scaled-down version. It featured an aquarium, pier and garden areas, two-level bridges with cables attached to a space-needle and flanked by circular office buildings topped with points. At night, millions of colored lights would make the area look like a giant carousel.

Two models of the projects were made by college students for the show. Wright's drawings contradicted each other, so the students had to use imagination to make the models work, said a Carnegie spokeswoman.

Kaufmann hoped he could help Wright "fashion a new world." If Wright had been able to build his dreams, the world would have been much different than we know.

"Frank Lloyd Wright and Edgar J. Kaufmann: Merchant Prince and Master Builder" runs through Aug. 29. Information: (412) 622-3131.

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