P.O. Box 194
14520 River Road
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1950
Built as a weekend retreat for well-to-do, adventurous and independent Dr. Edith Farnsworth, the Farnsworth House is one of three residential houses by Mies van der Rohe in the United States. It is also an instructive lesson in the limits of photography to express such a sensory, kinesthetic, spatial experience.
One approaches the house on a path parallel to the Fox River, a luxurious, yet "naturalistic" landscape designed by American landscape architect Lanning Roper. Wandering by the moving river, your eye is suddenly drawn inland, across a sweeping, mowed meadow to a weightless apparition, the house. With no foundation, only a central cylindrical core, the house meets the ground only through the elegant structural legs of the walls. Anticipating future flooding, Mies raised the "floor" of the house five feet off the ground, which proved not to be high enough (as river levels have risen over time the house has been flooded, with severe damage to the beautiful and expensive wood panelling, more than once).
One enters the home by climbing a low, broad set of stairs to a sparse deck, then another, similar set of stairs to the outdoor porch. Then, by crossing through a glass wall, one is in the house, although "in the house" connotates some sort of darkened enclosure, the antithesis of this experience. The house is a light-filled, quiet, geometric observer in a lush landscape that sweeps and swirls through it, dissipating in the tangled greenery or floating off down the river.
Although it is claimed Dr. Farnsworth didn’t care for the house, she didn’t sell it until 1972. It was purchased by Britain’s Lord Palumbo, who added furniture by Mies and who used the house as a private retreat, despite graciously opening the house to the public. When Lord Palumbo sold the house, it was acquired for the State of Illinois after a long and hard-fought campaign to keep it open, and is now beautifully managed and accessible. It is an extraordinary place, a utopian dream, seriously and achingly contrasted by the more environmentally and financially sensible multi-housing suburbs dotting the drive back home.
Text Christy Rogers 1998, updated 2009
Photographs Simon Glynn 2007
How to visit
The Farnsworth House is approximately 58 miles southwest of Chicago in Plano, Illinois along the Fox River. Excellent guide tours are provided, but should be booked in advance.
For directions on getting there, details on opening times, more details of the house's history, and to book your tour, please visit www.farnsworthhouse.org.
Another Mies house that can be visited in Illinois is at the Elmhurst Art Museum.
Books and other web sites
Click the book titles to view and to order direct from
Mies van der Rohe: A
A highly readable introduction.
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