Farnsworth House (1951)

Mies van der Rohe
Plano, Illinois

Here is another milestone in Modern architecture, the Farnsworth House. And like many others who were the first of its kind, this innovative structure suffered much scrutiny, even from its owner, Dr. Edith Farnsworth. (claimed to be “communist” due to lack of privacy and personal storage) Although their relationship ended poorly, the nature of the project and its site allowed Mies van der Rohe to do things he could not in his bigger structures, such as the Segram building in New York. The steel I-beams are visible to the eye, where in his high-rise, it had to be hidden by fire-proof cladding. The site, located deep into the woods allowed him to glaze all four walls of the building, without concern for privacy. Of course, this did not go as he planned – when news of the radical design got out, everyone came to see it. The structure faces the Fox River, reflecting its calm, linear horizon. The simple geometry, the cleanliness of white lines, and the weightlessness induced by the thin columns lifting the structure, give a strong contrast to the irregularity and rugged colors of nature and the heavily weighted tree trunks. The contrast and transparency allow the man-made and natural to co-exist harmoniously. Although they both integrate their buildings into nature, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe takes quite a different approach, where Wright integrated his structure into nature, allowing the stone walls to grow out of the ground, for trees to grow through his wooden roof, and the cantilevered balconies to overlook the waterfall. (yes, I’m talking about Fallingwater) The sketches show a general characteristic of FLW and Mies, respectively.

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