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Monday, October 28. 2013
Frank Lloyd Wright
I've always felt it was a place I needed to see. I was correct. It lived up to every expectation. Pictures don't do it justice(but I'll share some anyway). The story enhances the visuals to a degree I had not prepared myself. You could visit this several times a year and get a substantially different feel each time.
Wright had something very particular in mind when he built this, and he clearly achieved what he set out to accomplish. It wasn't easy. He exceeded budget, there were disputes, and Wright was not easy to work with all the time. But the owners of the home, the Kaufmans, had bought into his vision, and the results are spectacular.
While their original budget was only $35,000, total costs eventually topped $155,000 (roughly $3mm today). While it would be nearly impossible to build this structure today due to environmental impact issues (this structure has been assessed regularly has having a negligible impact on the environment, which says something about environmental regulations, as well as Wright's ability to deliver on a vision), the costs would clearly be far higher than the inflation-adjusted figure of $3mm. In addition, you'd have to account for the costs of ego, which were significant in this project.
Wright was self-taught in architecture, unlike most of his contemporaries. Edgar Kaufman, Jr. was a disciple and friend of Wright, having studied architecture under him briefly. Kaufman implored his father to meet Wright, and when they did finally meet, the elder Kaufman was won over by Wright's ingratiating behavior and ability to charm. Kaufman asked Wright to visit a rural camp on property he owned at Mill Run, Pennsylvania to see if it was a good location to build. Wright had the area surveyed, and chose a spot on the falls to build, contrary to Kaufman, Sr.'s choice of a house below the falls, with a view.
Wright's decision would prove lucrative for himself, the Kaufmans, and architecture in general. Kaufman saw promise in Wright's vision. Foregoing a traditional foundation, Wright integrated the house into the landscape and using the large rocks as a base, while creating cantilevered floors to provide the space the Kaufman's requested, which provided an openness that was inviting. The structure became part of the landscape.
Wright was ahead of his time. Many products which he could have utilized to make the job easier or better did not yet exist. Those tools which did come along afterward have been used to update and improve the structure, such as post-tensioning and the use of new natural paints that are waterproof. Left to its own devices, with the materials he had at the time, the building likely would have collapsed by now. Even so, without modern intervention, it lasted far longer than most expected, a testament to his ingeniousness (and some subterfuge between one of his assistants and an engineer to provide additional steel support, which almost caused Wright to leave the project).
Fallingwater is located in a region rich with Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Only seven miles away is Kentuck Knob, a project for a local large dairy family, utilizing Wright's "Usonian" style. Fifteen miles away is the Duncan home, a Wright prefab construction moved from Illinois. There are very few examples of this type of home, originally meant to be designed for mass production.
Each home is managed by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a not-for-profit private organization. While I purchased tickets only for a Fallingwater tour, I learned during the tour that for the same amount of money I could join the Conservancy and receive tours at all three locations, a substantial value.
My tour guide spent a small amount of time hinting that the Kaufmans were supporters of the New Deal, and most likely Socialists, it's hard to understand how this adds value to the tour even if it is true. The Kaufmans were capitalists, running a department store in Pittsburgh, and they were active in Democratic Party initiatives. Were their political views to win out in the long run, great examples of this type of architecture would be very unlikely to ever be created (indeed are already becoming rare because of the impact of too much regulation). It's also worth noting that critics of Free Markets and capitalism are loathe to admit that wealthy patrons, such as the Kaufmans, provide society with so much value. I am certain my guide would never have agreed with this point. However, Kaufman Jr. donated Fallingwater to the Conservancy because he recognized the value it brought to society. As we left, we donated some money to the Conservancy. As I noted to my father, "they may have been Socialists, but I am not. I am willing to pay to support the things I enjoy, and I should pay for them if I can."
When it was opened to the public in 1963, it was suggested that as many as 25,000 people a year may visit the structure. Today, close to ten times that now visit, allowing the Conservancy to provide regular and necessary upkeep and renovations.
Fallingwater has a visitor center, a very nice museum shop, and an excellent cafe. We ate lunch there, and the offerings were delicious. We were told all the food was local (I don't feel this is a necessity, but it's good to know such good food can be provided by local suppliers at a reasonable cost) and it was delicious.
The area makes an excellent destination for travelers or, as it was in my case, an excellent break on a longer trip. I could've stayed longer, and plan on returning to see the 2 other Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the area.
Posted by Bulldog in Our Essays, Travelogues and Travel Ideas at 18:24 | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)
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It is abject nonsense that the guide hinted that the Kaufmans were in any way socialist or had such leanings. My late mother was a frequent guest at Fallingwater before World War II as the wife of a son of one of the Pittsburgh industrialists. I heard a lot of interesting things about the scene but not a jot or tittle about socialism.
In the many articles I've read about this iconic home, I've never come across any discussion of the possible deleterious effects of the running water on the exterior or interior building materials that were used. Is there a problem maintaining the house because of its exposure to the water, or just the added humidity? Wood, concrete, and even stainless steel last only so long when continually exposed to the elements. The house looks extremely elegant, of course, but I'd hate to live there if it needed expensive repairs every year.
"Fine Home Building" had an article a years ago that interviewed the son of the owners. He said the house has been falling down almost since day one due to the humidity. But he said the main drawback to living there is the continual noise from the falls; there is no escaping it.
I find that interesting. I'd read an article he wrote and he loved the house. Don't remember what it was in. I think he loved it because of what it represented, though.
I lived next to a creek for 12 years. The sound of the water over rock is soothing, though when I brought my (then future) wife home the first time she stayed up all night thinking the toilet was running.
The Moors had a love affair with water. A visit to the Alhambra is literally a lesson in the value and beauty of water. It flowed all the time there. One of the most amazing places I've ever visited.
Yes, the house had issues with humidity and leaks. But the owners loved it nonetheless. I can see why. It's comfortable and relaxing. The solitude is amazing. Or not - if you want to surround yourself with people, you have the space and capability to do so.
But leaks definitely were a problem until new materials were developed. Not so much of an issue now.
Have visited here several times. I love the lines--but, I hate the contempt for human comfort that Wright demanded of all of his residents! Those stinking little rooms for a sleeping cot, the horrible way you have to sit in the main room in the house. No wonder Mrs. Kaufman demanded at least one comfortable chair in there! The contempt FW demonstrated for the cook is unimaginable. No one needs a major kitchen--but a woman or two cooking for two people up to ??? needs something more than an 7X5 (maybe it's that much I don't remember).
The Knob house is much more comfortable and human; I think it is a place that might have influenced your father's thinking when he built his home. Do go back to see the Knob. Take the last tour in the day in the late spring or early summer (around graduation time?). AND, never, ever allow yourself to be suaded by the PR surrounding today's favorite architect no matter in which period of time he practiced. How grand is Gehry in Bilbao and how disgusting in Seattle! Each piece of work on it's own as it collaborates with the environment and context. Each piece on it's own as it speaks to humanity's needs and higher ideal. FW fits on site so wonderfully well--but that is all it does for me!
I agree with Faculty Wife that the rooms in Falling Water are inhospitable. Robie House in Chicago strikes me the same way.
My Scoutmaster once told the story of his forebear (an uncle, perhaps) who had been the contractor on a house that Wright was building somewhere in the Shippenport area. The contractor was concerned that a cantilevered roof would collapse when the supports were removed. Wright, to prove him wrong, stood under it when they were removed. Wright survived unscathed. The roof fell a week later.
When I visited Falling Water in 1971 on a high school field trip, we were told that the roof of the guest house had chronic leaks. At least it wasn't lying on the ground. I'm glad to learn that Falling Water has been well preserved since then.
This kind of downplays how ignorant Wright was about construction realities.
Sorry. In my opinion, the ignorance and disrespect for building materials & the obvious requirements of Structural Engineering exhibited by Mr. Wright ought to bring scorn on his memory. The ongoing repairs have been astounding. This Engineer is not impressed by Mr. Wrights apparent incompetence to providing a proper structure for the client, unless the client was a masochist.
I'm not sure they were socialist or not. As I said, whether they were or not doesn't add to the story, so I was rather surprised the guide spent any time discussing it at all. I do know they were active Democrats and supporters of the New Deal.
The water seems to only be one of several problems the house faces. It had many leaks, though these leaks have all been fixed with modern materials and paint.
I found the house comfortable. I like the small rooms and tight hallways. I didn't find the furniture to be uncomfortable at all. I'd have felt right at home there.
I can understand how engineers might find his work full of incompetence. It's a struggle between every architect and engineer I've ever met. The engineer working on my house hated the architect, and vice versa. One felt the other had unrealistic expectations, the other felt his counterpart wasn't informed on possibilities. Probably both were correct, to a degree.
I knew long ago, as a child, that Fallingwater was a place I had to see. I read about it fairly extensively over the years and I still can't say I was prepared for what I experienced. In some ways, I'm glad I'm not a construction professional, I doubt I'd have enjoyed it as much as I did.
Or, as Richard Feynman replied, when he was told by an artist that, as a physicist he couldn't appreciate the beauty of a flower - perhaps it is possible that he appreciates it more since the superficial beauty is only enhanced by the understanding of the nature behind it. Both answers are possible. But since neither apply to me, I get to enjoy it for what it is.
I think of Wright as a man who designed for ego. I'm familiar with a number of his projects but I can't say I'd like to live in any of them.
I'm sure he'd be pleased that Fallingwater is one of the answers on the Foreign Service Exam.
I'm a builder.
The man Wright was an ignorant fool, disrespectful of his materials, of elementary structural mathematics, of humanity.
I have asked several architects some elementary questions, and none of them, not one, had a clue, viz - How big was a Roman working class living room? Why? Likewise for a medieval or modern European LR. What is the maximum span for a 2 x 10 spruce or fir/larch joist under a living room floor? Steel web truss of given depth? TrusJoist?
Blank looks well mixed with contempt at the very idea that they should know these things.
Dislike architects? Why yes, yes, I do, especially Wright
I went to an exhibition about Wright at the Guggenheim a few years ago. I am not sure about Wright's own political leanings, but the exhibition made sure to mention that Wright used the word, "Usonia" rather than America to refer to the United States, because he thought it insulting to Canada and Mexico. Usonia is the word for the United States in Esperanto. And of course, Esperanto is a big part of the whole George Soros push. (Soros' father was a big advocate of Esperanto) so I am not sure what Wright's politics were, but it is possible he was mushy on socialism.
I'm not sure, nor do I particularly care, what his politics were. But I think he didn't care, either. Esperanto is a politically neutral language, so I don't think that's meaningful. Soros may have adopted it as a theme, but that's fairly recent.
It's worth noting Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" was more or less based on FLW. Not specifically, but broadly. While they were not ideologically in lockstep, they did exchange letters and FLW drew up a house for her that she loved. It was never built, and is very similar to Fallingwater.
My guess is he blew off endorsing "The Fountainhead" because he didn't like being restricted by labels, and realized endorsing the novel would cause a backlash. Why bother alienating potential clients?
It pays to keep even those you disagree with close. I have many liberal and progressive friends. We argue incessantly, but they are good friends and I can rely on them. They have been useful in business and in life, and I think if I were to join a group which caused them to think differently about me to the point of not wanting to be my friend, that would probably be THEIR problem not mine - but it could be a problem nonetheless.
I've never been much of a joiner of clubs or groups, partially for that reason.
I can see FLW thinking much the same way, based on what I know about his life.
Wright's ignorance of structural mechanics and materials is legendary. All of his buildings are visually arresting and broken on delivery. In fact many of his famous buildings no longer exist.
In 2002, Fallingwater recently had to substantially reconstructed as it was literally falling down. This cost $11.5M, which was mostly financed by a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania grant and funds from other sources.
Mendel Glickman is the structural engineer responsible for the engineering of the cantilevers at Fallingwater as designed. In the analysis of the stresses on the structure that proceeded the 2002 renovations, both compression on the concrete and tension on the reinforcing steel were determined to be near (but not exceeding) their limits. This in spite of rather extensive hidden structural damage that they suspect is from a massive falling oak that struck the end of the cantilever some years ago. This is damage that was only discovered once the renovations had begun. Conventional engineering would have more of a safety factor -- "it must support 50 units, so design it for 100" or "design it for 250", so I suspect that there was an error in Glickman's calculations. It didn't fall down, however.
Yes, no pre-camber was built into the thing, so any inevitable sag was evident instead of being masked.
Yes, the formwork and shoring was removed before the concrete had reached full structural strength, and then the cantilevers were used to support the pouring of the heavy wet concrete of the cantilevers above. So the sag is rather more substantial than it should have been. I suppose much of the blame for that must be allocated to the architectural firm, who in theory had someone supervising the construction the whole time.
I get it, architects and engineers. It's an old story. I remember architect student friends in college arguing at 2am with the engineers.
But vision is important. FLW paved the way with many new ideas that were far ahead of their time. Broken, or not, upon delivery, his accomplishments opened up new doors.
I think of it this way, in my job. The Sales Department wants XYZ to make money. So they go out and sell XYZ. Problem is the company can only provide XY, or X. The sale comes in and and I'm left to have discussions on how to provide the remainder of the sale without us having the capability to manage it.
It's painful, and often a broken process. Yet we struggle through and oftentimes XYZ is never sold again. It was too much work for too little return. But sometimes XYZ takes off and is a huge revenue generator.
When I was younger, I'd fight XYZ tooth and nail. Arguing about the limitations of the sale and why more consultation was needed. As I aged, I learned a better way to deal with things. Accept that the vision for XYZ is meaningful, and while it isn't going to work properly, it's possible to find a way to make it work so that if it does take off, we can manage it effectively.
Too often, when the ideas for sales come from the production side of the platform, it's not what our buyers are seeking. I worked in sales at one organization where production was providing us products they felt were useful (they were, actually, quite useful), but it wasn't at all what our audience was seeking. That company failed eventually, after I left.
I am aware of all the flaws of FLW's products, and the complaints about his running over budgets, his lack of understanding (though I'd say it was more his understanding that things change and would support his long term vision, as they often did) of current materials.
The entrepreneur and the business manager are rarely on the same page. When they are, it's a good thing. But it's just not that common. Both have value, both have needs, both are often at odds.
Well stated BD! I believe what you are seeking to identify is the essential soul of the client! I believe that FLW did find the essential essence of the place ! I also agree that many of his "new" design ideas are now commonplace, i.e. ranch style homes.
Shall we come now to a discussion about the houses in Kincaid paintings? Why, oh why are those pictures of old houses so popular?
As long as you're willing to pay for it I have no problem with you going to the bank to take out the money to finance the illogically expensive dream or Z but I shouldn't have to carry that cost. The commonwealth of PA is out $11,000,000 to keep a broken monument to ego around because it was too poorly designed to withstand the test of time of less than 70 years? srsly?
The Romans had engineers build their buildings and they stand up pretty well. They aren't hard on the eye either.
Two things worth noting.
First I was unaware any tax money went into this - they don't mention it during the tour and in fact they are proud of the fact a private consortium manages it. For me, it's a benefit since I'm opposed to tax money paying for 'stuff' like this. However, one has to question how many times over PA has made the money back. While the Conservancy is a not-for-profit, I was speaking with the woman who ran ticket sales. Close to 400 people a day visit at about $20 a pop. Without digging too deeply into the finances (prices are actually higher, particularly if you buy packages), that's about $2.7mm a year to keep the place going. PA gets none of that (non-profit gets it).
HOWEVER, 4 buses pulled in while I was there and I was told bus traffic is easily the biggest delivery of visitors. So the bus companies are paying taxes. The region is rich in activities (whitewater and other facilities are less than 10 minutes away, all drawing from Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater, and there is now a Casino nearby) which pay taxes. We left our dog at a kennel nearby which services Fallingwater. I laughed saying it must be odd to have someone drop off a dog to visit a house, but the woman said about 30% of their dogs come from visitors to Fallingwater - more taxes. My guess is that keeping the house in shape has paid for itself, when you consider the cost/benefit analysis. It's rare to actually have that kind of benefit for a public project, but I'm willing to bet it's pretty meaningful. That's not even discussing the incomes PA gets some revenue from each employee, who'd lose their jobs if the place was shut down.
So no, I'm not a supporter of tax money for public sites like this, especially one which is fairly self-sufficient as this is. But in this case, you'd be hard pressed to make anything more than a strong ideological case against it (which, by the way, I'm willing to make and agree with you on).
Secondly, the Roman monuments to which you refer were all paid for by public monies. So you're kind've talking out of both sides of your mouth. Sure, their engineers were good, but they were motivated by love of empire and conquest. Hard to make a one to one comparison here.
Well, I think his point was about the difference in longevity, not financing. Several Centuries at least against 70 is a valid point.
My wife's uncle was a city architect in Honolulu, he drove us around the city when we visited and pointed out the projects he had designed. Many of the public beach bathhouses were his design, he was proud of the feature that collected the rainwater (of which they had a lot) and directed it to the corners which then funneled it to spray outwards into the sand. No gutters. Very Japanese, as was he. The entrances to the bathhouse were protected from any rainwater.
Let me clarify some things in my previous post. I didn't mean to say any public monies spent was a benefit to me. I meant the fact that Fallingwater is, primarily, a non-profit private consortium was a draw to me. Unaware of the public funding of the restoration, I'd say that would bother me somewhat. But doing some basic math, I'd say the public got its money's worth. Not that this is justification of public spending, just that if you need to rationalize the impact, it's easy to do.
Second, while the Conservancy generates about $2.7mm in revenues from Fallingwater alone (that's a rough guesstimate, btw), I said PA gets none of that. As I pointed out, the portion which is paid out in salaries does get taxed, so the state actually does get something back. The woman running the ticket booth was interesting. She moved back home to care for sick parents. She had a degree in literature from Penn State. I sincerely doubt there are many jobs for a degree like that in the Ohiopyle region, but she did find something which is tangentially related to her studies (however tenuously). She not only did the tickets, but did guided tours, as well.
It's important to have some perspective. I'm very much a Libertarian, which is why I stuffed cash into the donation box. I'll pay for what I like.
I'll join you in complaining about government support for this project. But not too much. My guess is they could have raised the $11mm privately if they put their mind to it.
An interesting discussion here, with many viewpoints.
I think Wright like many of us defaults to the opinion that everyone else would like the world arranged to his idea of perfection. He was very the man-about-town/life of the party sort, and his houses are all just about ideal for music evenings and cocktail parties, but would be awful for family life with children. Many of his houses are by today's US standards "small", yet the public rooms seem open airy and spacious.
Several have noted the small kitchen at Fallingwater - the kitchen at the Walter Gropius house in Lincoln, Massachusetts is even smaller. I think 12x15 is actually pretty OK for a kitchen in a vacation home, but we must remember that the Kaufmanns had a full-time chef -- employees may complain about the size of their workspace but in the end will cope. I suspect the family and guests only ever entered the space in order to pass through to the back stairs or to confer with Elsie about meals. We have friends who have never used their oven or cooktop because (when they don't eat out) they eat "ready meals", food from the supermarket hot-buffet, or phone-in take-out from popular chain restaurants. Yet they all seem to put in a gourmet kitchen when they build a house, because the "market expects it", even if they will never use it themselves.
Another mentioned that FLW houses are so bad in livability and construction that many have been torn down. Or perhaps the fact that they have been torn down is evidence that they were bad design and execution. But the expectation of the market actually does have a lot to do with this, because the neighborhoods where FLW houses exist tend to be either "top end" where a single bathroom on the hall doesn't cut it, or else "urban decay" where a flat-roofed residential structure is not going to survive a few decades of rental tenants and absentee-landlord. The residential houses that have been torn-down have mostly succumbed to fire, hurricane, road-widening, and what in the UK is called "bungalow gobbling" -- where someone buys a house for the land and location in order to replace it with a McMansion. Unlike more traditional houses, FLW homes don't tend to lend themselves to vinyl-sided shed dormer additions, closing in of porches, and the other typical re-muddle-ings that grow on most older houses. The business and retail buildings have generally not survived long past a change in tenancy or a corporate bankruptcy, as the land has been repurposed to other uses.
Others said "inhospitable". That contrasts with the cocktail party atmosphere, which I suppose itself would be inhospitable to introverts. I think some are drawn to the low-ceilinged cubby-like bedrooms and office-nooks, which all have a sense of safety but also look out to a vista of indoor our outdoor entertaining space.
Architects vs engineers indeed - or artist vs builder or whatever combination. I have vivid memory of the GC on a big museum building taking me into the trailer, showing me the $1 brick that the architect "picked out of some fancy catalogue", and showing me a 20¢ common brick that to me was completely indistinguishable from the first. He assured me that they were in fact alike, and that after a few frosts there would be severe spalling with bricks of the quality they were using, and they were paying 5 times too much for them to boot -- but no-one would listen to him. It is now 20 years later, and I've looked very closely for spalling on that building and cannot detect any. I do seem to daily travel past construction sites with Tyvek going up where the builders seem to have no conception of which direction gravity will carry water, or how to detail the water-shield around a window. Any design with brick, stonework, or structural members passing through a roof or exterior wall is an invitation for water ingress and is therefore a compromise. FLW houses seem to have a lot of this for artistic reasons, so the detail on the flashing and roofing is very important. Wright houses are not the only buildings with leaks. My point is that builders have trouble with details that differ from the local vernacular, and "cutting edge" building techniques of the 1930's suffered from that as much as "cutting edge" building techniques do today. I kind of suspect that the roofing problems at Wingspread and other unique designs were largely because Wright expected local professional roofers to know their materials and innovate solutions, whereas the roofers expected Wright in some cases to tell them how to do the unusual yet in others cases got upset when Wright or his on-site minions became directive and started "telling them how to do their job".
I find it interesting that comments say he had no grasp of practical building techniques. He and his students built his Talesian West school campus themselves -- not just the design, but the construction also. If a design or construction detail didn't work, they worked out why and changed it.
I find it interesting that he is accused of ignorance about materials science and engineering, yet he was a pioneer in the use of several materials, including use of plywood structurally in furniture, and concrete in both block and poured&reinforced forms. It looks to me like many of the early critics of the Fallingwater cantilevers looked only at the capacity of the formed beams in the floor and ignored that the walls around the perimeter of the level also created a large structural beam.
Thanks for the commentary.
I have my own POV, of course, totally uncaring of how builders, engineers or architects view FLW. I like Fallingwater, as well as many other projects.
Was he an egomaniac? Probably. I don't care. I don't judge the work by the person. Ty Cobb was an asshole, by all accounts, but I won't quibble with his results.
I am very familiar with the engineer/GC vs. architect 'issue' from as far back as college, when I'd listen to them argue in the lobby of my dorm freshman year. I was amazed at how much these kids (back then) knew about stuff I only hammered, sawed, and mortared back home. I never understood why they argued. It seemed it was just an us vs. them thing they could never get over. When I had work done on my house and the GC spent time arguing with the architect (who, by the way was forced on me by local law...there was no reason to have an architect for what I was doing - expanding a room and raising a ceiling to make it a cathedral ceiling). In the end, I opted for the GC's POV, particularly because the architect had done a pretty shoddy job in measuring. He was opposed to the cathedral ceiling and drew up plans that didn't even conform to the measurement of the room.
Doesn't mean all architects are bad - just the one I had forced on me.
But it was an amusing thing to watch and reminded me of freshman year of college.
Fallingwater had many, many flaws, and the Kaufmans were well aware of them (and apparently so was FLW, but he suspected they were flaws which could be overcome with time), but the home was greater than its flaws. It more or less ushered in a new era of building, as far as I can tell. For that reason alone, it's worth visiting and preserving.
Politically, is it worth preserving with taxpayer money? Probably not. I wouldn't agree with it, anyway. However, when you see politicians pumping cash into stadiums and arenas that will "rebuild" a run-down section of town (which these things never do) because a rich team owner doesn't want to shell out the cash himself, you have to compare that to the money spent on Fallingwater, which over time has more than made up the cash spent on it, and kept a region rich in history and activity as vibrant as one could hope.
Would Fallingwater have actually fallen apart, can you see any good reasons to head out to the Ohiopyle region of Pennsylvania? Fort Necessity is a draw? I don't think so. That new casino that went up? Doubtful. Whitewater rafting? Possibly, but that's not going to draw the kind of cash Fallingwater does.
No, Fallingwater has been the linchpin for the economy in that region, and combined with the 2 other FLW homes in the area (neither of which I had time to visit), it constitutes a very important part of American history which is worth saving.
Is it a monument to ego? Eh...doubtful. At least as much as any great building is a monument to ego, anyway. To me, it's just an outstanding work of art which is worthy of a few hours of time.
I'll return, no doubt. Probably with more questions for the guides, this time.