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Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright continues to impress onlookers with its innovative design. Designed in 1936 it remains one of the most researched and admired designs. The main feature of the house is the terraces cantilevered over the Bear Run Stream. However, the Fallingwater had major structural failure in its concrete frame.
According to Jim Atkins, FAIA, “Structural failure in reinforced concrete can be progressive, and it typically begins with cracking followed by excessive deflection. This is precisely what occurred at Fallingwater while construction was still underway. Cracking and excessive deflection are by definition a structural failure because the design is not intended to behave in that manner.”
To many, the Fallingwater design even with its many complications was triumphant. Edgar J. Kaufmann jr., in his book, Fallingwater, A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House, vigorously defends what he calls “The Faults of Fallingwater.” He begins with the rationale: “Mistakes have plagued Fallingwater, yet the extraordinary beauty of the house and the delight it brought to the life of its inhabitants form the context in which its construction should be evaluated.”
This is the exact sentiment why the design has remained popular. In our last article Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic ‘Fallingwater’ we stated that the “Fallingwater’ is a iconic building. One that should be synonymous with the word “ground-breaking”. The design was new, innovative and daring. It redefined the way architects looked at integrating design with nature. In the article What is Fallingwater? one of the questions was, Why is it so famous? and to quote “It’s a house that doesn’t even appear to stand on solid ground, but instead stretches out over a 30’ waterfall. It captured everyone’s imagination when it was on the cover of Time magazine in 1938″.
As stated in The Story of a Country House, The Failure of Fallingwater by Jim Atkins,
“Perhaps the most striking single feature of Fallingwater is the cantilevered reinforced concrete balconies that extend out over the falls. Such cantilevers were a relatively new design element in the 1930s, and reinforced concrete technology itself had not progressed much beyond simple, direct bearing configurations. Given the limited use of such designs at that time, it is understandable that engineers may not have fully understood the forces imposed in a cantilever.
As the use of concrete has become more widespread over the years, more has been learned, and today there are many tools to employ, such as higher strength concrete, high-tensile reinforcing steel, and more advanced curing techniques to apply after the concrete has been placed in the formwork. Reshoring, or temporary bracing placed under a suspended concrete structure for a period of time after the formwork has been removed, usually requires its own engineering design. Reshoring prevents the concrete from moving, or in this case deflecting, until it reaches its ultimate design strength, typically calculated at 28 days after placement.”
In your opinion tell us, does the “failure’ supersede the miraculous design?
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AIArchitect This Week | Fallingwater: The Story of a Country House. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek09/1016/1016d_fallingwater.cfm
Nejad, K. M. (n.d.). Structural Renovation of Fallingwater. Retrieved from http://faculty.arch.tamu.edu/media/cms_page_media/4433/fallingwater.pdf