Fallingwater is considered one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century. The iconic home was designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for the Kaufman family and sits majestically astride a small waterfall on Bear Run in the Allegheny Mountains in rural Pennsylvania.
The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and has since become one of the most recognizable houses in America.
The Historic Savannah Foundation has invited the director of Fallingwater, Justin Gunther, to speak at its 63rd annual meeting for the annual Louise Lauretti Lecture at 6 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Pulaski Room at The DeSoto.
Before taking over management of Fallingwater, Gunther was a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design and a member of the Historic Savannah Foundation, the 13th Colony, and the Historic District Board of Review.
“I’ve always liked being involved with what’s going on in the community in terms of revitalization and preservation efforts,” says Gunther.
Gunther gave up a med school track to pursue a career in historic preservation when he visited Savannah for the first time.
“I just fell in love with the city and the way it embraced preservation as, almost, an ethic of citizenry, as being part of an urban environment,” says Gunther. “I saw what SCAD was doing with preservation throughout the city and how important that discipline was in the ethos of the school.”
Gunther earned a graduate degree from SCAD and eventually taught there. “I think the great thing about Savannah, and teaching in Savannah, is that the whole city is your classroom, where you can get some real-life opportunities for learning about how preservation can impact community health, can impact community revitalization,” says Gunther. “It’s cool to always have the city at your disposal. It’s kind of like a living laboratory.”
It may not seem like Savannah has a lot in common with a 20th century modernist home, but from a preservation and restoration point of view, Gunther was able to take a lot of what he learned during his work at SCAD to Fallingwater.
“That’s probably something I brought with me to Fallingwater, the idea of a living laboratory for historic preservation and for interpretation for historical sites,” Gunther explains. “In building Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright really stretched conventional notions of living and building. He pushed the limits of cantilever construction 22 feet out over a waterfall.
"So, it’s not a conventional house. It demands some untraditional thinking in terms of how you preserve it and how you interpret it. I think this idea of letting experimentation happen using places as living laboratories to advance our thinking is kind of an underlying philosophy that I gained while teaching at SCAD, but that I was able to translate to the management here at Fallingwater.”
Fallingwater is a particularly unique challenge for preservationists. The flat design of the roofs leads to leaking, the humidity of the area causes paint to peel off of the concrete walls and the veneer on the furniture to pop off, and an entire suspension system had to be built into the house to reinforce its structural integrity.
“It’s a never-ending saga of preservation, so that’s why I say it’s a great place for a living laboratory for experimenting with new preservation technologies, just because we are constantly battling these challenges that will never be solved, but we can come up with new ways to approach them to better the long-term preservation of the site,” says Gunther.
Gunther’s lecture at the HSF meeting is titled “Shaping Preservation: Ann Pamela Cunningham to Ada Louise Huxtable to Beyond” and focuses on great women of historic preservation.
“I will be talking a little bit about Fallingwater, but throughout my career, I’ve been inspired by different women that have been influential in the historic preservation movement,” says Gunther. “They all have a direct tie to my evolution and my career.”
The lecture and meeting will be preceded by a networking happy hour for young professionals hosted by the HSF’s 13th Colony at 5 p.m. at Edgar’s Proof and Provisions in the DeSoto.
“I know the Historic Savannah Foundation continues to do remarkable things for Savannah, so I’m excited to get back and see familiar faces and spend some time with everybody,” says Gunther.