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Fav Building Friday: Falling Water, Syndey Opera House, and the Air Force Academy Chapel

Bruce Anderson, Architect and Project Manager at Synthesis, shares what buildings and architects have inspired him throughout his career.

My first inspiration, without a doubt, is the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Fueled by visits to at least 75 of Wright’s designs from Los Angeles to New York City, his work has taught me more about the manipulation of light, scale, and materials than any other architect. I even had the opportunity to dine in the courtyard of Taliesin West, a magical event that stretched late into the night. But Falling Water, of Bear Run, Pennsylvania will always be my favorite.

The photos below are from my first visit there in 1985, right after my graduation from the College of Architecture. Back then, one could take a walk down to the creek bed and attempt to replicate the famous photo looking up at the cantilevers. Our day was cloudy, so I was not so fortunate. And this was before the major restoration of the entire property, so you could in fact see one of the holes in the main level balcony cantilever. Regardless, it was a wonderful visit and I knew one day I would have to go back.

25 years later, when our family went back in 2010, the facility had been completely restored. It was pristine and beautiful. The visit was more rushed this time and controlled by very watchful docents. The path down to the creek was blocked and overgrown so the photo below shows the closest we were able to get. Although I was disappointed that we could not repeat my previous experience for my children, they were thrilled to see this humble weekend retreat (even at 11 and 16 years of age). It’s hard to believe that it has already been 10 years since our visit.

Inspired by an Encyclopedia: Two images that shaped my career choice


My mother always thought I would be an architect. I still remember looking up what architecture was in our family encyclopedia sometime in the late ’60s and the Sydney Opera House was the featured masterpiece.

Under the heading of Architecture, a black and white photo of Jǿrn Utzon’s iconic monument, like the above, captured my imagination and helped drive me towards a career in architecture. I have been a student of its history ever since and it is the ultimate example of an architectural saga. As I learned each part of its story over the years, I was amazed it was ever realized. Its story continues to represent for me the foibles and frustrations of achieving greatness in this profession and why the making of a masterpiece requires exhausting the fortitude of many. Sydney would no longer be Sydney without those billowing, tiled shells. I will have to stand on that plaza one day.


It was paired in that encyclopedia with this masterpiece, Walter Netsch’s Air Force Academy Chapel, which I visited as part of my own childhood family vacation. I’m sure there is a slide of 11-year old me in front of it somewhere in Dad’s collection, as Dad served in the Air Force in West Germany during the most intense time of the Cold War.

I remember standing before it, wondering how someone could ever build a building like the Chapel. It launched me into a lifetime of learning how to manipulate and assemble materials to create our built environment. I now know this is a facility built before construction materials and technologies were available to defend it against an architect’s mortal enemy, water. Fortunately, a masterful reconstruction of the aluminum skin and stained glass infills was recently completed, employing new materials and details to extend its life another 60 years. I wish I could have somehow been a part of that restoration. Again, I need to return to this building that made such an impression on me.


Bruce Anderson, AIA, LEED AP


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© Synthesis Incorporated 2020

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