University of Pittsburgh
August 29, 2005

University of Pittsburgh Art Historian Franklin Toker Compares Notes With 93-year-old Edgar Tafel, the Last Living Link to the Creation of Fallingwater

Sept. 22, 2005, marks the 70th anniversary of the day Frank Lloyd Wright drew the entire design of Fallingwater in just two hours, "an astonishing act for the most complex house of the 20th century."
Contact: 

Sharon Blake

412-624-4364

Cell: 412-277-6926

NOTE: Video footage of Franklin Toker and Edgar Tafel's conversation at Fallingwater can be viewed after 10 a.m. tomorrow at www.umc.pitt.edu/m/video.html.

PITTSBURGH—In a revealing discussion ranging from Marilyn Monroe to the early days at Taliesin, former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice Edgar Tafel, 93, compared notes with University of Pittsburgh art historian Franklin Toker Aug. 27 while standing on one of the cantilevered balconies of Fallingwater, the home considered by many to be Wright's most extraordinary contribution to architecture.

Toker is the author of the critically acclaimed Fallingwater Rising (Knopf, 2003; paperback edition, 2005), which explores the unlikely collaboration of Wright and merchant Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. in creating the domestic architectural masterpiece that served as the Kaufmann family's weekend home, perched precariously over a waterfall at Bear Run, Pa. Fallingwater brought international fame to them both and resuscitated Wright's reputation as one of the greatest architects of the 20th century.

Toker, who researched Fallingwater for 18 years, had met Tafel several times, but Aug. 27 was the first time they had been together since the publication of Toker's book. Tafel, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, was at the historic home for the annual Fallingwater advisory board meeting.

Much of Toker and Tafel's discussion centered on Sunday, Sept. 22, 1935, when Kaufmann, a Pittsburgh department store magnate, visited Wright's studio to review plans for a country home that had been commissioned nine months earlier. On that day, Wright at last put his design on paper.

Although Toker's research reveals Wright had made some sketches of the building beforehand, Tafel contends that Wright was drawing and modifying his plans for the first time in a two-hour period just before Kaufmann arrived. "He never drew a line (on the Fallingwater project) before," Tafel declared.

According to Tafel, he and fellow apprentice Bob Mosher sharpened Wright's pencils and watched as the master architect laid out Fallingwater's floor plans and elevations, scale drawings of the exterior of the building.

Whether Wright had made preliminary sketches or not, the birth of the Fallingwater design is the most famous appearance of any building in the history of architecture, said Toker. Few if any other buildings were drawn out start to finish in a day; none, he added, were designed in just two hours, "an astonishing act for the most complex house of the 20th century." Compounding the importance of the event was Kaufmann's complete agreement with the plans. He told Wright not to change a line in the design, though Wright had just proposed that the Kaufmanns spend their weekends living in a house over a waterfall.

Tafel also recalled how he and Mosher had worked on the topographic survey of Bear Run that Sunday, each adding an elevation while Wright and Kaufmann had lunch. "He took one elevation and I took the other," Tafel recalled. "We didn't put our names to them. We did it to help Mr. Wright. We were afraid we might get fired for it!"

During their conversation, Toker reminded Tafel of the lecture Tafel gave in Pittsburgh in 1999 for which he used as a backdrop a large image of Marilyn Monroe. "Mr. Wright was going to design a house for them [Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller]," Tafel explained. "I accompanied Miss Monroe and her husband up to the house they were buying at the time," said Tafel, adding the couple decided not to hire Wright, though Tafel said a few sketches had been made for them. Those drawings are included in Tafel's book Frank Lloyd Wright: Recollections by Those Who Knew Him (Courier Dover, 2001).

When asked by reporters at the Aug. 27 meeting what Tafel thought visitors to Fallingwater would take away from the site 70 years from now, he said it was difficult to say, although he acknowledged the importance of keeping the famous home in the limelight. "It's important that it keep getting publicity. People should not make a trip east without stopping here," Tafel said.

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8/30/05/tmw