Building of the Month: August

This month’s buidling is Mies Van Der Rohe’s iconic Farnsworth House.

Highly controversial at the time of it’s completion in 1951, the house would later be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and designated a National Landmark in 2006.

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The house – designed for Edith Farnsworth as a weekend retreat – embodies the Miesian mantra “less is more.” Mies unpacks this further stating, “the essentials for living are floor and roof. Everything else is proportion and nature.”

Indeed, the structure’s minimalist elegance and the transparency that connects the one-room space to it’s surroundings are framed by the parallel planes of the elevated floor and sheltering roof.

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But, the most powerful experience of the house is not from the outside, but the inside, where the nature’s tapestry becomes the ornamentation.

“If you view nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, it gains a more profound significance than if viewed from the outside. That way more is said about nature — it becomes part of a larger whole.” — Mies Van Der Rohe
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Even as a master work of architecture, there are couple shortcomings to Farnsworth House.

First, siting. The weekend house was built in a floodplain, and has since been subjected to damaging water levels in 1956, 1996, 1998, and more recently in 2008. The decision to build the house on other higher ground of the property instead of so close to the river could have avoided multiple damaging flood events.

Second, energy efficiency. The house is incredibly energy inefficient due to it’s lack of insulation, non-thermally broken construction details, and prevalence of glass walls. However, if the house were constructed today, it could improve it’s efficiency remarkably by making use of thermally broken multi-paned insulated windows, thermally broken connection details, and advanced insulating materials.

Still, the Farnsworth house stands as an icon of Miesian modernism, encapsulating the architect’s design principles in an elegantly simple solution.