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The Money Shot

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“Originally, in general film-making usage, the “money shot” was simply the scene that cost the most money to produce. In general, a money shot is a provocative, sensational, or memorable sequence in a film, on which the film’s commercial performance is perceived to depend.”

We arrive at a much the same truth if we substitute the word “building” for “film”. Before film and before photography, the rich owners of country houses could only have pictures painted of their houses and those paintings were the money shots of their time. They were the views the building was designed for people to remember. English artists of the 15th–19th centuries looked at their landscape through the eyes of the landowner first, and the eyes of an artist second. The following example of Malvern Hall in Warwickshire, by Constable, is better than most. However, if it was an architectural rendering, I’d want the shadows cast by the building to match those cast by the trees – and oh! the position of the sun for that matter. Oh, and lose the cheesy birds.

A beautiful picture was a memorable image for observers such as visitors and other guests and of something the landowner could be proud of (subtext: being rich enough to own). If we cut out all the middlemen such as artists, architects and builders, beauty was property value.  In his famous book The Wealth of Nations, social philosopher and economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) wrote that “With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.” Basically, he was saying that rich people like to show off how rich they are. So if some rich guy wants a painting of his land and his house then so be it – an artist’s gotta make money too! My only problem with this is that beauty (which is a vague concept at the best of times) becomes linked to articulating the possession of money and property.

This next image is from a textbook on country estate design. Notice how the driveway approaches the house at a changing angle so the perspective shifts to create in visitors a sense of excitement and the expectation of a decent weekend.

 Over at Chatsworth House the same trick is used.

Here’s what happens. We get views like this.

And this.

At this point, I had planned to use this next image to make a point about driveways and how architects became much more skilled at composing picturesque views that articulate the possession of money and property (a.k.a. “nature”).

But actually, driveways have nothing to do with it for the driveway doesn’t enter the site where I thought it did. This is the first view of the house.

The bridge on the right will take you to the front door just after that slender replacement tree on the left, below.

And then the driveway snakes up like this …

… so your driver can park your car here.

So how do we get to the famous view that Mr. Kaufmann imagined he would be seeing from his house?

Well, as far as I can make out, there must be a path from the back driveway, coming down the hill to cross the stream and get to that well-sat–upon rock, before going around the front of the house to link up with the driveway again. And here it is.

So why did FLW put the house where he did? There were a few factors operating.

  1. By the mid-1930’s, he needed something to restore his reputation. He hadn’t had any major buildings since the Ennis House (1924) in Los Angeles. This was in his pseudo-Mayan style that wasn’t really catching on. There had been the Tokyo Imperial Hotel (1923) that was severely damaged (but at least still standing) after the Great Kanto Earthquake. And that was it. By 1935 he was basically seen as an Edwardian Architect, past his peak and a bit “washed up”.
  2. There was The Great Depression going on. There wasn’t that many clients around anyway.
  3. He needed some money. In addition to business going badly, he was going through a rather expensive divorce.
  4. He needed a marketing opportunity. “When Kaufmann showed Wright his favorite spot, the waterfall, Wright decided to cantilever the house over the falls. Although Kaufmann imagined a house with a view of the falls, Wright envisioned the Kaufmanns living with the falls. Wright [as legend has it] explained, “I want you to live with the waterfall, not just to look at it, but for it to become an integral part of your lives.” (link) When Mr. Kaufmann sat him down on that rock, FLW saw the mother of all photo opportunities, the possibility to create an image that would tell the world how great he was. To FLW, the image of the house and its site was more important than the house itself.
  5. And, as Mr. Kaufmann did not object, it must have been to him as well. FLW knew that rich people like showing off what they have.

 And so “The sound of falling water filled the house”, as did humidity. Because the house is directly over running water, it had problems with mold. The owner nicknamed the house “Rising Mildew”. The sound of dripping water also filled the house for Mr. Kaufmann also called Fallingwater ‘a seven-bucket building’ for its leaks. Condensation under roofing membranes was an issue because of the lack of damp proofing and thermal breaks (duh!) but let’s not focus on that eh?

Instead, the new webcam at repackages the famous view yet again!

The classic view of Fallingwater is the subject of photos, paintings, drawings and videos that have been viewed around the world.  Now you have the opportunity to see this view live 24/7 from the comfort of your own home.