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Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe (Plano, IL)

25 Jul 2004 by Jason Fried

Some selected shots from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. Curious people can find out more about the house. Really curious people should visit (it’s only about 60 miles outside of Chicago). Even though it’s built with the most industrial of materials (steel, glass, and concrete), and it’s bright white, I’ve never been in a space that is more in tune with the nature that surrounds it. It just feels like it belongs there. The proportions and materials inside are simply perfect. It’s serenity. Do check it out if you can.

31 comments so far (Post a Comment)

25 Jul 2004 | Pedro Custůdio said...

Thank you for introducing me to this astonishing house. :)

25 Jul 2004 | Jamie said...

We visited the Farnsworth House last Friday for our "department outing". I had seen pictures of it in the past, but you really need to go there to get the full effect. Just picture a single room of wall-to-wall windows looking out into trees, trees, and more trees--not to mention the Fox River. Truly beautiful.

25 Jul 2004 | Eugene Chan said...

Looks like the perfect setting for an iPod commercial. :-) And yes, it is an amazing house.

Mies' genius was, of course, in designing seemingly effortless details.

25 Jul 2004 | Brenda said...

Gasp!

25 Jul 2004 | Benjy said...

I am going to have to get out there sometime soon!

25 Jul 2004 | Harlan said...

The story behind its construction is pretty interesting. Lust, love, deceit, etc etc - it could be a movie.

That said, my impression of the house is that it's really more for Mies' portfolio than for someone to actually live in. One of the things Farnsworth said about it was instead of feeling like she had this great spot to view nature, she felt more like a fish in a glass bowl - completely exposed with no feeling of security from solid walls.

26 Jul 2004 | Al Abut said...

Is anyone else dreaming of how cool that place would look with some white-on-white Apple products adorning the inside? Airport Express here and there, extend the range by hundreds of feet, sit outside with an iBook and a glass of wine... let's see if I can get my work to spring for it.

26 Jul 2004 | cpalmieri said...

Unless he used some sort of super-insulating glass, I can't imagine how much it costs to heat the place through a cold Illinois winter.

26 Jul 2004 | Jose Rui Fernandes said...

I always liked this house, but after buying a book about it I was somewhat disappointed.
The spot and the looks are perfect, but it's not to live in, not even just for a weekend -- except maybe in the perfect weekends. The house is cursed with all the problems a house can have (from heating, cooling, ventilation, condensation... -- I think some were corrected much later by a new owner) and others -- like floods in the winter. I just can't imagine myself arriving at my weekend retreat by boat and have all my stuff inside ruined. That's masterpiece in conflict with reality.
I would like very much to visit it someday.

26 Jul 2004 | Urbanchords said...

Here is part of the reason for the controversy. Here is the "Glass House" by Phillip Johnson. It was completed 2 years earlier than Mies's Farnsworth house. Many say that Johnson took the idea from Mies. So here is a reference to do a little compare and contrast.

http://www.arcspace.com/tours/moran/glass_house/

Could you live in a glass house with no solid walls?

26 Jul 2004 | mike said...

It would be cool if Farnsworth Bentley lived there.

26 Jul 2004 | Dante said...

Farnsworth is so much more than just a "glass house" though. The proportions are suberb, the white is so classical, the materials are beautifully chosen and detailed, and the overall relation to the natural surroundings make the house feel like it rose up from the soil.

26 Jul 2004 | Darrel said...

" the white is so classical"

Anyone who designs an all-white house has no real understanding of how people live in houses.

It's a beautiful portfolio piece/experimental piece of architecture. As a home, well...

26 Jul 2004 | mike said...

Anyone who designs an all-white house has no real understanding of how people live in houses.
Huh? My house is all white - minus the door, shutter and roof.

26 Jul 2004 | Bob H. said...

What kind of camera did you use to take the pictures?

26 Jul 2004 | JF said...

What kind of camera did you use to take the pictures?

Canon S400

26 Jul 2004 | Britt said...

Some river rock underneath the house (where no grass is growing) would be a nice touch. I'm sure with today's technology, most of the problems could be fixed if you were to build a similar house.

26 Jul 2004 | Andrew said...

"...Iíve never been in a space that is more in tune with the nature that surrounds it."

It's surprising to hear this comment from a 37Sig person, since it's so clear that the house *isn't* in tune with the nature that surrounds it. (Although you're allowed to have aesthetic responses to architecture that differ from the standards you apply to web sites.)

The site is a hot, steaming, muggy swamp at least part of the year, meaning you wouldn't want to sit out on that porch without some very un-modernist mosquito netting. Even with insulated glass, the heating and cooling bills would be a nightmare. And how leaky is a flat roof? And there's the fishbowl effect. And on and on.

People often like to evoke the phase "form follows function" when they talk about the legacy of Modernism in web design, but it's worth seeing just how little the High Modernists like Mies ignored the actual functions required by a dwelling in projects like this.

26 Jul 2004 | nemo said...

"Iíve never been in a space that is more in tune with the nature that surrounds it."

There's nothing like white concrete slabs to make you feel in tune with nature! Personally I find van der Rohe to be stultifyingly boring and depressing. His buildings are like emptied-out strip malls.

van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Lubetkin and their ilk have done more to ruin the urban landscape than fire bombing. There needs to be a movement back towards natural forms, a more organic architecture.

27 Jul 2004 | lolita said...

Saddan had it right! Nothing says "simple" more than a hole in the ground. Now everyone! To your holes!

27 Jul 2004 | but that's just me said...

I'm usually one who admires simplicity, but this might be a tad too simplistic for me. Although I can see JF's point of being in tune with nature to the extent that the house's predominantly glass walls could allow one to feel they are outside without actually being outside. And the house's surroundings are beautiful. I have to say, though, $20 per person to tour the house?! That seems a little excessive.

27 Jul 2004 | barlow said...

It's true that a number of modern houses have technical problems, but the movement had an ethos of pushing into using new materials, and the materials themselves have to catch up eventually. The kinds of glass products available now would solve some of the insulating problems, and many architects now can run computer simulations to address the HVAC problems, allowing them to vary the location on the site, or the amount of glass, etc., to conform to a pre-specified energy use plan. Even concrete has had enormous advances since then. Flat roofs are usually not completely flat either! There is a slight pitch.

Your basic spec home in the suburbs is a maintenance nightmare too - siding, roofing, gutters, drainage, plumbing, electrical, windows, screens, paint, insects, pests, HVAC, carpet, fiberboard, etc. We've been building houses in a similar way for hundreds of years in America and it is about time that we started thinking about employing new/old materials like steel, concrete, and glass for residential construction. Something like the Mies house can inspire architects of more practical dwellings in the same way that the rather exagerrated couture on a runway can inspire changes in the kind of clothing one buys at your average department store.

27 Jul 2004 | but that's just me said...

Something like the Mies house can inspire architects of more practical dwellings in the same way that the rather exagerrated couture on a runway can inspire changes in the kind of clothing one buys at your average department store.

Hmmm...very thoughtful point. I like that a lot. Well said.

27 Jul 2004 | Darrel said...

Well said, Barlow.

27 Jul 2004 | JFR said...


I saw a home by Pappageorge/Haymes in Lakeside Michigan this weekend. The home fit perfectly with the woodsy surroundings. It's materials were also completely industrial in nature.

http://www.pappageorgehaymes.com/

28 Jul 2004 | ek said...

Pappageorge...ha!

Now that name brings back memories (and not fond ones ;-).

28 Jul 2004 | Derek said...

Looking at the photos, and entirely aside from any materials/heating-cooling/drainage problems, and even aside from the exposed all-glass feeling -- well, what would the house look like if someone actually lived there? I mean lived there, with, say, three kids and a dog. And toys. And mess. And laundry.

I look around my lived-in house -- the wires around the back of my eMac, the notice boards with stuff all over them, the Kleenex boxes, the bed that needs making, the empty water bottles and pop cans, the mishmash of furniture we've accumulated over the years, the bangs and scrapes from moving things around a kids running about. How would that make the Mies house look? Horrible. (Imagine a toddler with a tricycle and those glass walls. Ksssh!)

It reminds me of interior design magazines with kitchen cupboards that have glass doors. Looks great if your stuff is neat-freak organized. But it wouldn't with any cupboards I know in the real world.

There's a reason houses have been built the way they generally are for a long time, and why modernist ones (especially extreme versions like Mies's) aren't more widespread, even though the movement itself is decades old. Houses take a beating, and we change what we do with them all the time, as we and our families come and go and grow up. The Mies house is a neat idea, but as a "machine for living," it looks more like a "machine for living machines." Nice for inspiration, but what you make of that inspiration would need to be different.

28 Jul 2004 | Don Schenck said...

From the pictures, I'm not that impressed. I'm sure it's more stunning in real life.

Years ago, I wrote an article -- How One Man Made The American Dream Come True -- for a homesteading magazine. Now that is a home in tune with nature.

Friend still lives there. Solar and hydro for electric, wood heat. Very nice. It can be done.

30 Jul 2004 | wtfu said...

wow, the first person ever in a jf shot

30 Jul 2004 | Josh said...

I must say that I love the way the house looks, as I do with most Bauhaus influenced spaces. However, Andrew has a point.

The house is in a flood-prone area and has flooded almost up to the very top of its single piece of furniture more than once. It's a bit on the short side, you see. And can anyone guess what happens when you turn the lights on in your lovely glass box in the middle of a forest to enjoy a bit of reading as the light travels to visit other shores? Bug migration!

These details didn't come so easily to the Great One. Is this perhaps part of the reason that enthusiastic advocate of Modernism, Ms. Farnsworth, didn't live in it for very long and sued Mies over his fees?

The house is a beautiful statement of van der Rohe's vision, but not to that of borrowing spaces from nature rather than expropriating them. In tune with nature? Thoreau would kick dear old Mies right into the middle of Walden Pond!

01 Aug 2004 | pinkus said...

wake the fuck up

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