Reviews

Retro-Review – Fallingwater (21005)

In our second retro-review we look back at the beginning of the LEGO Architecture series and Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater.

Fallingwater is one of the six original sets in the LEGO Architecture series. Released in 2009, it’s the largest of the originals with 811 pieces. To this day it remains one of the largest sets in the series, ranking 9th out of the 64 Architecture sets.

I recently found a 100% complete Fallingwater set, including box and instructions, for an incredible price of just $50. I live just a few hours from the real Fallingwater and while I’ve never actually been there, Fallingwater has been on the top of my LEGO wish list for many, many years. I bought the set, took it apart to dust off the pieces, and then put it back together again. And this is my review.

Background

LEGO Architecture began as a collaboration between LEGO and architect/AFOL Adam Reed Tucker. Adam is a LEGO Certified Professional and co-founder of Brickworld, one of the largest LEGO conventions in the United States. His passion for blending LEGO and architecture drew the attention of the LEGO Group, which lead to a partnership that launched the LEGO Architecture series. I won’t summarize all of Adam’s contributions to the LEGO world in this article, but if you would like to learn more about him, the Chicago Tribune published an outstanding profile on Adam Reed Tucker in 2016 which you can read here.

By Carol M. Highsmith – https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/highsm/item/2010630255/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29385254

Fallingwater is a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935, partially overlooking a waterfall in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. It’s not only considered to be Wright’s greatest architectural achievement, but one of the greatest architectural achievements ever. A passage quoted in the the LEGO instruction guide describes Fallingwater as “that rare work which is composed of such delicate balancing of forces and counterforces, transformed into spaces thrusting horizontally, vertically and diagonally, that the whole achieves the serentiy which marks all great works of art.” (Paul M. Rudolph, 1970, “Global Architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright Kaufmann House, Fallingwater”.)

The LEGO Design

The original LEGO Architecture designs of Adam Reed Tucker barely resemble the Architecture series today. Fallingwater primarily uses ordinary bricks and plates in its 811 parts, with no sloped pieces or Technic parts. Only five grille plates are used in the build, plus ten SNOT bricks to place the waterfall and Fallingwater sign.

In fact, Fallingwater uses only 50 unique parts in 7 different colors. I compared this to a more recent set of a similar size, 2016’s Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace includes 780 pieces but uses 99 unique parts in 11 different colors.

The LEGO instruction book describes Adam Reed Tucker’s LEGO design philosophy as follows: “As an Architectural Artist my desire is to capture the essence of a particular architectural landmark into its pure sculptural form. I first and foremost do not view my models as literal replicas, but rather my own artistic interpretations through the use of LEGO bricks as a medium.”

With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand Tucker’s vision for the original LEGO Architecture designs and how they differ from the more modern sets, which appear to strive for a more literal interpretation of their intended real-world landmarks.

The Box

The front of the box provides a view of the completed LEGO model, plus the standard details on the set’s size and target age group.

The rear of the box provides a preview of the model’s puzzle-like construction, which I’ll discuss later in the review. It also includes a brief summary of both Fallingwater and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, plus the only image of Fallingwater itself, the famous “downstream” view of the waterfall and the home.

The Instructions

The instructions are unique in that it uses a wire-bound booklet, a rarity in LEGO sets. For that reason alone it’s the best instruction book I’ve ever used, with no seams or pages that want to fold over on their own, making you constantly lose your place.

The beginning of the booklet includes photos and architectural sketches of Fallingwater, plus a brief biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and the history of Fallingwater. The rear of the book provides some information about Adam Reed Tucker, the original creator of the LEGO Architecture series.

The instructions themselves begin with the “nature” portion of the build. The house is built separately and pieced together almost like a puzzle that slides into the base. The entire house, in fact, is held to the base by one single stud. It’s a tight and sturdy fit that makes it one of the best parts of the build. Overall it’s about 117 steps total broken out into several different sections.

The Build

The build starts with a dark stone grey 16 x 32 base plate. The creek (Bear Run) is made of transparent 1 x 2 tiles, with light stone grey 1 x 1 round plates added as rocks. The base is emptier than I expected, with a dark stone grey large 8 x 16 brick forming the foundation of where the house will eventually be placed.

The only SNOT bricks in the entire build are used early on to form the waterfall and hold the Fallingwater sign. An interesting side note is that sign uses a larger, light grey font on a brick yellow plate, rather than the white font on black plate that is most commonly used in the LEGO Architecture series. In fact, Fallingwater is the only LEGO Architecture set to use a brick yellow plate for the sign. And only two other sets use the light grey font on a light-colored plate: Robie House and Farnsworth House.

The build continues by completing the creek and layering up the base. The ground is built up with 1 x 6 earth green plates, and reddish brown 1 x 1 round plates will form the trunks of the trees.

The rear of the build is covered with various sized plates and layered up with more earth green 1 x 6 plates. A bridge with a 1 x 6 plate and 1 x 2 wall elements crosses the creek upstream of the home. (This is a real feature of Fallingwater and perhaps the second-most common point to take pictures of the home.) The base is completed by adding earth green 1 x 1 bricks to form the trees. This simple tree style is only used one other time in the LEGO Architecture series, in the next set that would be released after Fallingwater, the original version of the White House.

The build then transitions to building the house itself. The house is built separately in five segments, which slide together more like puzzle pieces than LEGO bricks. In fact, only a single stud is used to connect the home to the base, and no studs are used to connect the five house segments together. It’s a unique design feature that holds tightly as the segments are put together and added to the final build.

The first house segment is the largest, built almost entirely with brick yellow plates. Transparent 1 x 2 plates are used for the windows, and 1 x 2 wall elements and tiles are used to form the first of Fallingwater’s many cantilevered terraces.

The first segment is placed immediately onto the base, with only a single stud required to hold it in place.

The next three segments form the three floors of the home. This is the first floor, with more terraces that will extend out over top of the creek.

The second floor segment again includes more terraces plus the only grille plates in the build. Grille plates have become a signature look for the Architecture series, especially in the skyline sets. Fallingwater was actually the first LEGO Architecture set to use them, and they would not appear again until a few years later with the Big Ben set.

The next segment forms the third floor of the home …

… while the final segment forms the roof.

These four home segments, as mentioned, slide together to form the remainder of the home …

… which then slides into the base to complete the build.

The Verdict

In the beginning of this article, I said that Fallingwater has been at the top of my LEGO wish list for years. I happen to live just a few hours away from the real Fallingwater, and what I appreciate most about the real-life structure is how it captures the beauty of Pennsylvania’s mountains. A quote in the instruction guide says, “Fallingwater achieves something that no country home successfully had before: it emphasizes, in every place and at every turn, the wonder and beauty of nature in this woodland setting.” (Bruce Brooks Pfeifer, “Frank Lloyd Wright – Fallingwater,” 2003.) This is the Pennsylvania I know and Fallingwater captures it perfectly, the merging of form and nature.

As a LEGO set, I enjoyed Fallingwater’s “simple” build style. Modern LEGO Architecture sets are packed with advanced design techniques and styling. Fallingwater was like stepping back to my childhood, when all I had were bricks and plates and it was up to me to figure out what I could make from them. The method of sliding together the puzzle-like floors of the home is clever and gives LEGO Fallingwater a unique touch. The use of simple tiles and wall elements perfectly captures the cantilevered terraces that give Fallingwater its signature look.

That being said, I feel that the LEGO version of Fallingwater failed to capture the :nature” side of Fallingwater. Take another look at the photo of Fallingwater in the beginning of this article and you’ll see what I mean. Brick yellow is so overused that one might think Fallingwater is located in the middle of a desert. The transparent tiles used for Bear Run and the waterfall that gives “Fallingwater” its name didn’t quite hit the mark for me. And finally, while I understand how trees are one of the most difficult forms to capture in LEGO bricks, these tiny 1 x 1 brick trees are a poor substitute for the thick forests of the Pennsylvania mountains. Fallingwater is renowned its balance – form versus function, interior space versus exterior space, and man versus nature. But the rich beauty of the Pennsylvania landscape is not captured here.

I don’t rate LEGO sets in my reviews, but I have to give this set a mixed outcome for me. The home itself is perfectly built in LEGO form and I enjoyed the full build process and its use of common parts. But more color should have been integrated into the set, to better capture the natural beauty of Fallingwater. This could have easily been done by swapping out light and dark grays for the over-abundant use of brick yellow. With a few simple changes, LEGO Fallingwater could have been the LEGO counterpart of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece.

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