A legacy of building

Taking a vision to reality takes brains, skill and determination. Walter Hall, great-grandfather of the founders of Fallingwater Partners, possessed those qualities in abundance. His challenge: build the vision of Walter Kaufman for a summer house on Bear Run, designed by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright:

“It was not an easy job. Whether the famously flamboyant Wright recognized it or not, his design for Fallingwater left a great deal of room for improvisation, and improvise Hall did, with abandon, often to Wright’s consternation. Hall would add reinforcement to concrete where he felt Wright had overlooked them. He would ignore those details Wright had included that he felt were extraneous and make up details where he thought Wright have overlooked them. It was Hall, his grandson later told me, who made the decision to ignore Wright’s instructions to remove a boulder right beside the spot where the massive fireplace was supposed to be built in Fallingwater’s great room, a detail that has since become almost emblematic of the organic movement in architecture.”

In each case Hall drew on his backwoods sensibility, I’ve been told. But as work progressed, the exchanges became increasingly brittle. In one letter, for example, Hall informed Wright that he had just poured the concrete piers for the great room, and then added sarcastically, “I put them where I thought they ought to be on account of there’s no dimensions on your drawings.”

Their increasingly strained relationship is evidenced in a single photograph that Hall’s grandson kept as a treasured memento. It shows Hall standing at Fallingwater, a tattered blanket tossed over his shoulder, a handkerchief tied at four corners and placed jauntily on his head, mocking Wright’s proclivity for capes and berets.

And yet, the job got done. And when it was finished, the builder returned to his work at Lynn Hall.

There is no question that Hall had made a profound contribution to Fallingwater and to American architecture. As Franklin Toker, the University of Pittsburgh professor and author of “Fallingwater Rising” once told me, several of the most distinctive elements of Fallingwater may have come from Hall and from his work on his own building. The use of radiant heat throughout the structure, then considered revolutionary, “is probably something Wright picked up from Walter J. Hall,” he told me. The 40-foot long reinforced concrete beam that Hall used at Lynn Hall is central to Fallingwater, he told me. “The characteristic stone of Fallingwater, which Wright had not exactly used in that manner, might be a contribution of Walter J. Hall.”

From an article by Seamus McGraw, Contributor, Huffington Post, 2015