Students sit in the woods sketching Fallingwater

The interior design students gather at 4 a.m. outside a darkened Pollak Building. October’s storm had knocked the power out overnight; the only sources of light are Pollak’s backup fluorescents and the headlights of a charter bus waiting on Harrison St.

A bus waits on the street, in the dark of the early morning.

The James River bus waits outside Pollak.

By 5 a.m., they’ve hit the road, en route to rural Pennsylvania. Their destination: Fallingwater, one of the most famous architectural sites in America. There, they would have the opportunity to explore the work of Frank Lloyd Wright first-hand.

About 30 students are packed into the bus. Seated up front is Camden Whitehead, associate professor of interior design, who turns back to tell his students about the semi-annual trip. “We took a break in the late ’90s, and early 2000s,” he says, “but this is my 18th year going to Fallingwater.”

At 8 a.m., they stop for breakfast (and a bathroom break) at McDonald’s.

Camden Whitehead stands at the front of a bus, speaking into a microphone.

Camden Whitehead addresses the group.

The bus arrives at Fallingwater at 11:45 a.m. After spending some time at the gift shop, café and gallery, the group splits up to take guided tours of the premises. For some students, this is their first encounter with a Frank Lloyd Wright building.

In a wooded area, a group of students listen to a tour guide, with a modernist home in the background.

The group listens to a tour guide talk about Fallingwater.

Completed in 1939, Fallingwater remains one of Wright’s most iconic—and most expensive—masterpieces. The weekend getaway, designed for the prominent Kaufmann family, embraces the foliage and natural landscape, and sits over a 30-foot waterfall. Wright designed every element of the residence, down to the interior furnishings.

At 3 p.m., the group spreads out across the grounds and sketches the house from various angles.

A young woman, facing away, sits in the leaves sketching a house in the distance.

A student sketches Fallingwater through the trees.

Laurie Marcott, a graduate student, brought a sketchbook and various pencils and pens. “I think I’m going to use graphite for the majority of my sketching today,” says Marcott, “and maybe a little bit of ink.”

Several students sit along a stone bench as they sketch Fallingwater.

Students gathered in different areas to capture Fallingwater in their sketchbooks.

Professor Sarah Reed, who teaches the history and theory of interior environments, says seeing Fallingwater in person was an emotional experience. “I’ve been talking about this building for so long, but this is the first time I’ve been here,” Reed says. “There’s so many details that I never would have had the opportunity to see.”

“If I could live here, that would be my dream,” she says with a laugh.

A student sits on the balcony of Fallingwater while he sketches.

A student sketches from the balcony of Fallingwater.

Fallingwater is known for its low ceilings and intimate rooms, as well as the rush of water that can be heard throughout the grounds. Students remark on the aesthetic influences evident at the house, such as Japanese woodblock prints.

Whitehead renders Fallingwater in watercolors.

By 5 p.m., it’s time to go. It takes more than six hours to drive back to Richmond, but at 8:30 they stop for food at a Maryland mall. When they arrive at 11:30 p.m., the VCU campus is as dark as when they left.


January 24, 2019