This year marks the 70th anniversary of the iconic Farnsworth House located in Plano, Illinois. Designed by renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the house is the epitome of the International Style he is known for. His minimalist design philosophy is especially relevant today, when property owners are more interested in adopting the “less is more” mentality than ever before.
Broken Glass by Alex Beam delves into the nature of the Farnsworth House project from the beginning to the construction phase, and all the controversies that surrounded it. Though it is a winding tale, its value in the architecture space is increasingly relevant.
Today, I’ll be focusing on the key takeaways from Beam’s book that are relevant to today’s design philosophy. Here are 5 lessons learned from Broken Glass by Alex Beam:
The Small Details Create the Big Picture
Aesthetic is often seen as a big picture ideal, yet it takes the smallest details to achieve that over-arching goal. During the construction of Farnsworth House, Mies asked that the steel structure have all traces of welding removed and that the columns be painted with 4 coats of white paint– A testament to his particular nature.
Design Is More Than Just a Building
The architect of Farnsworth House sought out furniture that was specially designed for the space. The reason for this was that Mies strongly felt that the aesthetic of architecture wasn’t limited to just the outside of the building. The materials, small details, and furniture were all part of the overall ideal he sought in his work.
Climate is Key
A house made of glass may sound like an architectural beauty, but that doesn’t mean it was appropriate for the climate. Not only was the home subject to intense heat from its glass shell, but it also lacked air conditioning and proper heating.
Don’t Forget About Storage
Similar to the details being lost when it came to climate concerns, there were a few other missing pieces within the Farnsworth House design. The house lacked closets, resulting in a lack of practicality when it comes to living quarters.
It Wasn’t Just for Show
Although there were some practical oversights in the final design, Farnsworth House didn’t go unused. It was regularly used as a weekend house by the main client for many years before she ultimately sold it in the early 1970s
Who Was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe?
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was an internationally-recognized architect. Although he was born in Germany, he later settled in Chicago, Illinois where his work took on a new life. He is known as one of the original pioneers of architecture, and his work is recognized for its minimalist aesthetic. Farnsworth House was one of Mies’ most recognizable, iconic building designs.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe also went on to become head of the Architecture School that is now known as Illinois Institute of Technology. He designed several of the buildings at the campus, which are still standing today.
Why is Farnsworth House Important?
Farnsworth House is important because the ideas found in modern architecture, which are often applied to office buildings or high rises in urban environments, were applied to a residential function. While our commercial buildings have modernized in aesthetic, our residential properties have remained the same.
Farnsworth House dared to be different for a home in its time, as the use of steel and glass on a site next to the river literally lets nature in. Adding a window for a view is an old move, but making the entire wall glass and letting it all in was a new trend at the time. It is a true example of embracing modernity and rejecting tradition.
Alex Beam’s book provides context and life to the background of how Farnsworth House came to fruition. As one of the most significant architectural projects of all time, Farnsworth House leaves behind many lessons on the importance of simplicity in modern architecture. His designs will live impact our built environment for years to come and there is much to learn from Mies regarding his design philosophy and execution.
About the Author
Having joined the team in 2018, Habib Ansari is an Architectural Intern at Kluber Architects + Engineers. On the architecture team at Kluber, Habib brings charisma, personality, and a passion for his field. He enjoys the history of his discipline, as well as exploring famous architectural work around the United States.