Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House is one of the most iconic buildings in the history of Modernist architecture.
Designed in 1945 and built in 1951 for the successful Chicago doctor Edith Farnsworth, the open glass pavilion meant to be used as a weekend getaway house on a wooded site near the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. Despite the early great enthusiasm of Dr. Farnsworth, the project proved to be long, complicated and eventually disappointing for the client. Dr. Farnsworth was bitterly disappointed with the result.
Due to its abstract minimalism, the house was surprisingly difficult to live with. Poor ventilation of the interior and its final cost overruns were the major complaints that, eventually, led to a break between Mies van der Rohe and his client.
The structure of the Farnsworth House is made of eight Lshaped steel columns to support roof and floor frameworks and was designed by the architect for maximum lightness. The contrast between the highly finished, white painted steel and the surroundings creates a floating effect.
After its completion, Mies explained the principles behind the Farnsworth House. As many other Modernist architects, see Frank Lloyd Wright with Fallingwater, also Mies van der Rohe believed in the importance of nature for architecture.
White, as an example, was chosen to not disrupt the natural surroundings: “…we should attempt to bring nature, houses, and human beings together into a higher unity.” he said. For Mies van der Rohe, looking at nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House had a totally different and more profound significance than from the outside as, from the inside, nature becomes “…part of a larger whole.”
Since 1954, when water flood the interior for the first time, the house has been threatened by inundations several times due to storm water runoffs and rising water levels in the close-by Fox River.
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In the last years floods became more frequent and today the house and its integrity are in serious danger. The National Trust For Historic Preservation is considering different solutions to preserve the house, including its elevation or relocation.
Despite all, the Farnsworth House still stands out as one of Mies van der Rohe’s most remarkable works for its combined simplicity, conceptual elegance, and beauty.
Photo by Mark Haddawy