Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House – Plano, IL

14520 River Road, Plano
Illinois, United States
Email: farnsworth@farnsworthhouse.org
Phone: +1 630.552.0052
Website: https://edithfarnsworthhouse.org/
closed on: Mondays and Tuesdays; Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s Day
Museum Type: Monument
Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, exterior 1

The Farnsworth House (recently renamed Edith Farnsworth House) is a modernist building and a National Historic Landmark in Plano, Illinois, designed by German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Cover image: the Edith Farnsworth House in winter; photo James Vaughan.

History
The house is a 1500-sqft / 140-sqm single-story building located in the middle of a wooden property near the Fox River, about 50 miles southwest of Downtown Chicago.
The design of the house was commissioned to Mies by Dr. Edith Farnsworth (1903-1977) in 1945, the client’s aim being to create a private country retreat in the pastoral landscape of northwestern Kendall County. The house was completed in 1951, despite problems related to construction costs that had somewhat compromised the relationship between architect and client.
In 1972, Edith Farnsworth sold the house to British businessman Lord Peter Palumbo. Palumbo, who was also a collector of contemporary art, began comprehensive restoration works and installed several artworks, also by Anthony Caro and Richard Serra, in the house’s grounds. In 2003, the Farnworth Hosue was acquired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and opened to the public shortly thereafter.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, exterior 5

View from the north; image Peter Guthrie.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, plan

Plan, © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Design
Completed in 1951, the house is a steel and glass building with a rectangular open plan, based on a 0,80×0,58 meter rectangular grid and enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass panels, in which all functional areas are arranged around a central service core that contains the bathroom, kitchen, and fireplace. A rectangular terrace and a porch border the house on its south and west sides.
Due to the riverside location of the house, Mies raised it five feet 3 inches over the ground to prevent damage by flooding; this proved not enough though since the building has experienced severe flooding six times since its completion.

Mies’ extensive use of glass walls was aimed to create a strong visual and symbolic relationship between the house and the surrounding landscape.

“When one looks at Nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, it takes on a deeper significance than when one stands outside. More of Nature is thus expressed – it becomes part of a greater whole.” Mies van der Rohe

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, interior 4

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, interior 3

The large floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the house create expansive views from the inside towards the pastoral setting around; photos Wsifrancis.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, exterior 6

Located in an area prone to flooding, the house is raised 5 feet 3 inches over the ground; photo by End User.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, section through terrace and porch

Section through terrace and porch; image courtesy of Columbia University.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, flood

The house is constantly threatened by flooding as in this photo, taken in May 2020; image courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Structure
Structurally, the house consists of two concrete and steel slabs, one forming the building’s raised floor and the other the roof, supported by eight slender I-beam steel columns; all the house’s structural steel elements are painted white. Instead of resting on them, the slabs have been welded to the steel columns’ edges, thus giving a sense of weightlessness to the whole structure.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, exterior 8

Photo Jonathan Rieke.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, sections

Farnsworth House, sections; © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, structural details

Structural details; images courtesy of Columbia University.

Materials
The floor, which also conceals an underfloor radiant heating system, is paved with travertine stones, while the central utility core is clad in primavera plywood. Overall, there are only five visible materials in the Farnsworth House: stone, white painted steel, clear glass, plaster, and plywood.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, interior 2

A panoramic interior view of the Farnsworth Hosue; the wooden service core is visible in the background; photo Discopalace.  

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, underfloor heating system

A drawing of the house’s underfloor heating system; image courtesy of Columbia University.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, interior 6

White-painted steel, glass, travertine, plaster, and plywood are the materials used for the house interior space; photo Mike Crews courtesy of National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, interior 5

Image Peter Guthrie.

Reception and legacy
Though a few detractors ironically compared it to “a fish tank” and despite some technical flaws (the client complained with Mies about the house’s lack of thermal insulation and poor roof waterproofing), the Farnsworth House was immediately recognized by most critics as an architectural masterpiece. Widely regarded as one of the most influential buildings of the 20th century, for over 70 years the house has influenced countless architects and inspired other iconic buildings, such as the Glass House by Philip Johnson in New Canaan, CT, and the Olnick Spanu House by Alberto Campo Baeza in Garrison, N.Y.

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, exterior night

Photo courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation.


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