A short CG movie featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece

Fallingwater has always been my preferred work from one of my favourite architects: Frank Lloyd Wright. I remember seeing and admiring this building in some history book from school since I was a child. There was a photo of its outside with that characteristic point of view: the fall in the foreground and the deep forest surrounding the house. At 13 or 14 years old it seemed to me a very modern construction, almost futuristic; later it surprised me to find out that it dates from the Thirties of the Twenty Century.

With this animation project I have tried to understand —and to explain at the same time— how this house was built, showing its internal structure and offering points of view not so well-known or disclosed.

Some notes about this building

Fallingwater —as this building is commonly named in english— is a house designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. Construction began in 1936, and ended with the completion of the guest house in 1939.

Edgar Kaufmann Sr. was a Pittsburgh businessman. His family owned a property in a rural area with a waterfall and some cabins 50 miles southeast of the city. Mr. Kaufmann contacted Wright to order a new project on this property: that was the origin of Fallingwater.

Wright responded to the family’s love for a waterfall on Bear Run, a rushing mountain stream. The Kaufmanns assumed quickly the idea of Wright designing a house that would overlook the waterfall. They were surprised hearing the Wright’s suggestion to build a house positioned exactly over the falls.

“There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock ledge rising beside a waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from that rock bank over the falling water… Then came (of course) Mr. Kaufmann’s love for the beautiful site. He loved the site where the house was built and liked to listen to the waterfall. So that was a prime motive in the design. I think that you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design” (…)

[ Quote by Frank Lloyd Wright in an interview with Hugh Downs, 1954 ]

Given the contour of the land, Wright located a house anchored in the rock next to the falls, just over the stream. He oriented the house to the southeast as preferred, by this way the house would hover serenely over the water.

Near the property, native Pottsville sandstone was available to compliment the reinforced concrete Wright had in mind for the cantilevered floors. With these materials he needed glass, framed to give structure and rhythm to the group. By this way, light would come from several angles to provide a balanced ambience.

Wright extended the floors in horizontal bands, which echoed rock ledges, in a series of cantilevered concrete terraces, anchored to masonry walls made of the same sandstone as the rock ledges. The strong horizontal and vertical lines composed by terraces and walls are a distinctive feature of this house.

Building Fallingwater was a complicated and detailed operation, yet the resulting house seems to belong quietly in its setting. It fits into the hillside and extends out over the waterfalls just as if it has always belonged there.

The CG images presented below show graphically how Wright used concrete and stone in the structure of Fallingwater, level by level, as the house was built.

Fallingwater is the best example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of organic architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature through design perfectly integrated with its environment. Wright embraced modern technology to achieve this, designing spaces for living.

The project incorporates broad expanses of windows and the balconies are off main rooms giving by this way a sense of the closeness of the environment. There is also an interior staircase leading down from the living room allowing direct access to the stream beneath the house.

On the hillside above the main house is a garage, servants’ quarters, and a guest bedroom.

Fallingwater was the family’s weekend home from 1937 to 1963. Since 1964 it’s a museum with lots of people visiting it. It’s the only great Wright house open to the public with its setting, original furnishings, and art work intact. Almost all of the original Wright-designed furnishings are still in place.

Unfortunately, the house had problems from the beginning. Pronounced sags were noticed immediately with both of the prominent balconies—the living room and the second floor.

Apart from this, given the humid environment —don’t forget that Fallingwater was built directly over running water— the house also had mold problems.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy conducted an intensive program to preserve and restore Fallingwater. This involved a detailed study of the original design documents, in order to better understand the structure, then they developed and implemented a repair plan. The structural work was completed in 2002.

Fallingwater became famous even before it was finished and its fame increased decade by decade. This is because the house in its setting embodies a powerful ideal – that people today can learn to live in harmony with nature.

NOTE: all pics here are original renderings by Cristóbal Vila, made with information derived from the Book “Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright Country House” by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.

Bibliography & Extra Info

Fallingwater and Frank Lloyd Wright at Wikipedia

Fallingwater official website and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Fallingwater info at Public Broadcasting Service

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

The book “Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright Country House” by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. Principal Photography by Christopher Little and Thomas A. Heinz. Abbeville Press Publishers, New York [ Amazon ] · Thank you very much, Richard! :-)

I want to express my gratitude to all people that shared their Fallingwater’s trip photographs through the net. You can find a bunch of good images searching “FALLINGWATER” on Flickr. This has been one of the most valuable source of visual references for me, to better understand this complex project. Thanks to all of you, Flickr users :-)

Key frames from movie

3D Model wireframes

Making of

Architecture modeling

Curved wall modeling

Furniture modeling

Generating UV maps

Terrain modeling

Ground texture layers


Postproduction layers for stream

Postproduction layers for building

Pre-renderized trees



[1] The images of Fallingwater were created and are displayed with the permission of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the owner of the copyright in the design of Fallingwater. Reference to Frank Lloyd Wright is also with permission of the Foundation, which is the owner of the Frank Lloyd Wright® trademark and name, and all associated rights of publicity.

[2] The name Fallingwater is used with permission by The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

I want to express my gratitude to some friends for they support in the accomplishment of this project: Alberto Areta, David Argemí, Gustavo Pfaffendorf, Luis Díaz-Faes Santiago and Richard Chenoweth. Big thanks, guys! :-)

Cristóbal Vila, September 2007, Zaragoza, Spain