Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1945 and built in 1951, the Farnsworth House has both interior and exterior glass walls. Built on stilts, it sits on a flood plain along the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. In an article entitled “Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth House Is At Risk” at https://fastcodesign.com, the author describes it as “one of the most famous residential examples of mid-century modernist architecture in the country.”
This glass box house was constructed for Dr. Edith Farnsworth as a country retreat. Despite questions about its practicality and livability, the significance of the Farnsworth House was immediately recognized. A model of the Farnsworth House was exhibited in 1947 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The house continued to be a private residence for over fifty years. In 2003, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois purchased it. Today it is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open as a public museum. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Despite being built on stilts, the house has been flooded by the Fox River three times during the past eighteen years. The Chicago Tribune reported that “The worst flood, in 1996, smashed one of the home’s huge plate-glass windows, sending more than five feet of water inside and causing thousands of dollars in damage.” During the 1996 flood, Aurora, which is on the Fox River upstream from the Farnsworth House, received the greatest 24-hour rainfall (16.94 inches) in Illinois history. The storm was considered a 1-in-1000-year event.
Several plans for saving the structure are being discussed. One idea is to move the house further back from the river and up to higher ground. Another more daring plan described by the Chicago Tribune is to “temporarily move the house from its site, build a pit beneath it, and insert hydraulic jacks that would lift the house out of harm’s way the next time the Fox attacks it.”
Undoubtedly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to saving the house. National Trust has the influence, money, and expertise to accomplish this feat. Stay tuned for further developments.
—By Karen Centowski
To see a video about the Farnsworth House, go to Illinois Adventure # 1607 “Historic Farnsworth House” – You Tube at https://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwzWOfG14ww.