Farnsworth House in Illinois

Farnsworth House is an ethereal weekend retreat built on the banks of the river Fox near Plano in Illinois, a town approximately 60 miles south-west of Chicago. In 1945, German architect Ludwig Mies van der Roe was appointed by Chicago-based Edith Farnsworth to design a country home where she could get away from the city and enjoy Nature.

Mies conceived of Farnsworth House as an icon of 20th Century Modern architecture and it is universally considered to be the zenith of International Style in America.

Transcendental existence

With Nature surrounding the house providing the privacy, Mies was able to create a continuous glass wall that allowed residents to commune with Nature. The physical elements of the building are barely seen.

As Historian Maritz Vandenburg describes it: “All of the paraphernalia of traditional living — rooms walls, doors, interior trim, loose furniture, pictures on walls, even personal possessions — have been abolished in a puritanical vision of simplified, transcendental existence.”

Mies’s International Style movement had a great influence on the architects of the U.S. His famous dictum, “Less is more”, became a motto for modern architects around the world.

The simple one-storey house is located on a secluded site along the river. At first, this modern house may seem out of place with the surrounding greenery, but a closer look at the design reveals that it is actually celebrating Nature in distinct ways.

Natural environs

Mies specifically planned the location and orientation of the house to make use of the natural environs.

The house is situated far from the road at the south end of the 58-acre site.

Since there is no paved driveway or path leading to the house, visitors have to approach on foot, taking in the environs along the way.

The house faces the river, which flows just a stone’s throw away. Since the house is in the vicinity of the flood plain, it is vulnerable to flooding. Rather than locate the house farther away, Mies decided to raise the floor level by 5 feet 3 inches, elevating the house — one, therefore, gets the impression it is floating above the ground.

The building materials and structure also lend that impression. The house is composed primarily of four materials — steel, which is part of the structure of the house; the stone and Italian travertine; the glass above the curtain rods, and around the house; and the wood, a South American species, around the core of the house.

Mies solved the problem of solid walls by doing away with rooms, and the plan has a central crux that contains the fireplace, bathroom, kitchen and mechanical features of the home. As one gazes out through the clear glass walls of Farnsworth House, the border between inside and outside becomes almost imperceptible.

A different feel

In this all-embracing view, the lower deck and staircase are not visible; one gets a feeling of being suspended in space.

Farnsworth House is prized as an avant-garde design and is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed as a House Museum by Landmark Illinois.

Farnsworth House is a combination of man working with a changing Nature.

MEERA RAJGOPAL

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