Cottages at Fallingwater

ARCHITECT Patkau Architects Inc.
LOCATION Mill Run, Pennsylvania

The larger ambition of this project is to stitch together a sense of community from a disparate set of existing buildings and a collection of fragmented and differentiated landscapes. The retained meadowland above Fallingwater, which is the proposed site of six new cottages, is a fragment of a “recent” cultural landscape. It provides a complementary experience to the surrounding native forest from which to appreciate and understand both native ecology and cultural history. The meadow opens a clearing in the forest and within this clearing, the design of the six cottages is intended to construct synergetic, sustainable relationships between dwelling and the sun’s energy.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is an acknowledged architectural masterpiece, a significant artifact of the cultural heritage of the last century. Other Conservancy buildings on the expanded Fallingwater site are a collection of the vernacular and the architectural. All are intentional and functional but unrelated and unrecognizable as the presence of a community of common purpose. The introduction of the six new cottages could benefit the whole; they could act as a kind of glue, binding the community together, making linkages between things, setting parts into a new relationship with one another.

The existing Conservancy buildings at Fallingwater are linked together by the regional landscape of the Laurel Highlands, a gentle landform of swells and falls. No cottage here can compete with Wright’s masterpiece. No building form can address the disparate assembly of current Conservancy building facilities. Faced with such a predicament, this project suggests that the six proposed cottages take on the role of the binding landscape, becoming part of the regional landform. In so doing, they add their own immediacy of swell and fall to that of the larger vistas and topographic histories. They have no need of assuming yet another form of architecture on site; they are part of the site.

Cuts are made into the landscape: Sunset Cut opens the forest to occasion, and a Pond Cut is located northeast of the meadow, linked to both Sunset Cut and the assorted Conservancy buildings adjacent to the main trail crossing on Route 38. This large pond retains excess water on site, recycles treated wastewater back into the natural water cycle, and increases on-site biodiversity. An enlarged narrative for educational programs is suggested and an on-site source of building material is provided to facilitate the earthworks associated with cottage construction.

Cottage form is an intensification of landscape form. Just as Fallingwater is an intensification of the rock outcroppings that characterize Bear Run, the meadow cottages are an intensification of the swelling ground plane of the meadow, made from the very soil and grasses of the meadow itself. Each cottage forms a small ridge facing due south. In series, the cottages form swells and falls of landform, creating a sheltering micro-climate of sunny prospect.

Openings in the landforms connect cottage interiors to the meadowland beyond, silently and passively gathering the sun’s energy in the shoulder and winter seasons, shading openings and providing ventilation during the summer’s heat. Inside, the cottages are open in plan, generous with a sense of luminous space. Interiors are surfaced in light-toned wood, grounded by concrete floors and sculpted by daylight. A large opening to the southern meadow focuses the living space, allowing easy access to an outdoor terrace. Bedrooms are more enclosed, with double or two single beds as required, and extra guests can sleep on the long couch in the living space.

Sustainable building practices take the form of a Net Zero Energy strategy, achievable within the constraints of a modest budget and taking into account material choice, energy, water, and air-quality considerations.

JC: This is a wonderful project that is a landscape sculpture on the exterior, and a cave-like cocoon on the interior–in contrast to Wright’s famous bold and open cantilevers over falling water.

AK: This project represents quiet excellence. The earth-sheltered house is almost a “must do” of the critical architecture practice, an essential part of the repertoire. It’s a tough challenge that defines a designer. What this project bravely and succinctly does is almost nothing. It steps back, disappears and is nearing silence. It operates as a foil and counterpoint to the iconic presence of Fallingwater, receding into and becoming the landscape. It is defined only by a series of elemental window and skylight voids, set into undulating rows of berms. Within, the project is equally mute, allowing itself to sculpt space from the earth through light and simple undulations. This is a brave project, a John Cage-like symphony of almost nothing.

JL: This proposal is really in the private realm, and as such allows the architects much greater freedom of expression. They really ran with it very beautifully. I think it takes a very mature practitioner to tackle a design that so severely controls all views and infiltration of light. In addition, this is the only project this year that is multivalent in its reading: it is both a very buildable proposition and it can also be appreciated as a speculative essay on a desirable way to live.

Client Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
Architect Team John Patkau, Pat Patkau, Thomas Schroeder, Luke Stern, James Eidse
Structural Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd., Robert Silman Associates
Landscape MTR Landscape Architects LLC
Interiors Patkau Architects
Sustainability Consultant Recollective
Area 5,625 ft2
Budget $900,000 US
Completion TBD