In observance of Earth Day, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), the private nonprofit that owns, operates, and serves as lead steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, announced last month the installation of a 540-panel photovoltaic solar array at Bear Run Nature Reserve that will help to offset 100 percent consumed by the site’s superlatively photogenic main and guest houses. This, per the Conservancy, amounts to roughly a quarter of the total electricity used at the UNESCO World Heritage Site-inscribed facility that functions as one of the top architectural landmarks-slash-touristic draws in all of Pennsylvania. (For those with a shaky grasp of Pennsylvania geography, Fallingwater is located in the Laurel Highlights region in the southwestern section of the Keystone State, roughly 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.)
Designed by Wright in 1935, Fallingwater was built from 1936–1939 as a weekend vacation home for Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar J. Kauffmann and his family. The spectacularly sited property, including about 1,500 acres of surrounding idyllic meadows and woodland, was donated to the WPC in 1963 by Edgar Kauffman Jr. several years after he had inherited the property following his father’s death. First opening to the public in 1964, Fallingwater is located within the 5,100-acre Bear Run Nature Reserve, which serves as the flagship property of the Conservancy. More than 5 million visitors have journeyed to Fallingwater over the past 58 years.
As for the new solar array that’s set to come online in the “coming weeks,” it will produce an annual approximate 255,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy to offset the normal flow of electricity to the site supplied by West Penn Power. As noted by the Conservancy in a press announcement, the array, which features bifacial panels, is mounted on ground-anchored posts, leaving the surrounding landscape undisturbed. No trees were removed during the installation process, and the landscape will continue to be maintained as a meadow habitat that “attracts a multitude of wildlife including native species, insects, and pollinators,” according to the Conservancy. A comprehensive feasibility analysis preceded the installation of the solar array, which ranks as one of numerous projects tackled by the Conservancy over the past two decades to advance its own sustainability commitments.
Installed earlier this year by Altoona, Pennsylvania–based firm Groundhog Solar, Fallingwater’s new solar array at Bear Run was made possible through grant funding from the Pennsylvania Solar Center’s G.E.T. Solar Initiative and a power purchasing agreement with Brooklyn-based solar development company Ecogy Energy. As detailed by the Conservancy, Philadelphia-headquartered electric utility PECO “purchased the Solar Renewable Energy Certificates from Ecogy Energy to help meet renewable energy goals set forth by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
“In designing Fallingwater, Wright sought to create a harmonious relationship between architecture and nature. He was inspired by the natural features of the woodland landscape for the house’s colors, materials and design motifs, and oriented the building to take advantage of natural light and passive airflows,” said Justin Gunther, the Conservancy’s vice president and director of Fallingwater, in a statement. “Installing solar carries forward Wright’s ideals and continues the Conservancy’s commitment to protect and preserve this beautiful landscape and the architectural principles that make Fallingwater unique.”