With its white frame of steel seemingly hovering over a verdant landscape, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s Farnsworth House is elegant simplicity defined. But protecting the modernist landmark from the floodwaters of the Fox River is turning out to be anything but simple.
In the latest twist in the debate over the house’s future, its owner, the Washington-based National Trust for Historic Preservation, is pondering a plan to move the steel-and-glass masterpiece from its original location in Plano, 58 miles southwest of Chicago, to a nearby site that’s still along the river but considered less flood-prone. That site is located on the 62-acre Farnsworth House property.
A committee advising the trust on the Farnsworth House is to discuss the plan in a Friday conference call. “It’s definitely one of the viable options that we’re deeply exploring,” Germonique Ulmer, a spokeswoman for the trust, told me.
But one prominent member of the committee — Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, Mies’ grandson — strongly opposes the idea.
“That is not in keeping with the design concept of the house, which was a house in a flood plain, close to the river,” Lohan said in a telephone interview. “The river was part of its immediate environment. To move it to higher ground where it never floods would be ridiculous. You would ask: ‘Why is it on stilts?’ It makes no sense to me.”
Originally a country retreat for Chicago Dr. Edith Farnsworth and now a house museum, the Farnsworth House was built in 1951 on a flat flood plain. After noting the high-water marks on a nearby bridge, Mies raised the house’s living space on stiltlike steel columns to allow floodwaters to pass beneath it. The design has produced a combination of poetic effect — when water surrounds it, the house has been compared to a water lily floating in a pond — and watery assault. […]