Farnsworth House

This past weekend, my wife and I took the second leg of our three stop journey to see three of the most amazing post-modern architecture landmarks in the country, if not in the World, by visiting Meis van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, IL. The tour was very interesting and engaging and if you are ever in Chicago, I’d recommend you take the opportunity to drive out there and visit.

As you may recall, back in October we visited Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Caanan, CT. Later this year, we’re planning on visiting Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, out in Bear Run, PA.

The tour guide at Farnsworth House was very knowledgeable of the history of the house, including the deterioration of the relationship between Meis and Dr. Edith Farnsworth by the time the house was completed. He told of how Dr. Farnsworth wanted to decorate the space with her own furniture and curtains, while Meis had a specific vision to have the interior design and space be one with the exterior.

In terms of the property and the house itself, I felt that the house was much more of an element of its surroundings, with its proximity to the Fox River and the creeks running near by. The huge pane glass windows and the cantilevered porch drew the outside into the living space and I felt much more comfortable in the space. The way the kitchen was designed within the space was extremely interesting. But of all the elements of the house, probably the most innovative and impressive from an engineering perspective was the way Meis had all the “guts” of the house flow through one small engineering room in the middle of the structure. When I look at both buildings, Farnsworth seemed so welcoming while the Glass House, with is herringbone brick floor, its black metal structure, and a feeling that the structure itself was just dropped on the plot of land, had a pervasively cold and soulless feeling.

The Glass House

Today my wife and I took a road trip to New Canaan, CT to visit Philip Johnson’s The Glass House, his highly influential work from 1949 that some consider his masterpiece. The beauty of this structure was its minimalist design and the way its glass walls blurred the lines between the interior and the exterior spaces. And remember, he designed and built this in 1949, 4 years after World War II ended.

The concept of a Glass House set in a landscape with views as its real “walls” had been developed by many authors in the German Glasarchitektur drawings of the 1920’s, and already sketched in initial form by Johnson’s mentor Mies. The building is an essay in minimal structure, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency and reflection….The house sits at the edge of a crest in Johnson’s estate overlooking a pond. The building’s sides are glass and charcoal-painted steel; the floor, of brick, is not flush with the ground but sits about 10 inches or so up. The interior is open with the space divided by low walnut cabinets; a brick cylinder contains the bathroom and is the only object to reach floor to ceiling. Johnson built several structures in his estate.

Today’s tour was the last of this season and the tour guide said that next season is almost sold out. If you get the opportunity or the motivation, I’d make the effort to go. It’s a really neat tour.