The design of the dwelling was prepared by Mies van der Rohe in 1946, at the behest of Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who wanted to have a second home in which to spend some time in a relaxed and solitary atmosphere. The construction was carried out in 1950 and its cost, higher than the initial budget, eventually caused a serious rift between the client and architect. Dr. Farnsworth accused him of having overstepped the commissioning and Mies felt that the rich lady Farnsworth lacked sensitivity to architecture. The doctor countered that when the house was installed in late 1950, ground water seeped into the interior and the heating method produced vapor condensation on the glass. So, the dispute eventually reached the courts that ultimately ruled in favor of the architect, condemning the doctor to pay a high surcharge to cover the cost of house.
Regardless of the controversy between architect and client, Farnsworth House has some design problems. It has already been indicated that it lacks air conditioning and therefor,e in the warm seasons, produces an effect similar to that of a greenhouse.
The Farnsworth House has gone through various vicissitudes. Sold in 1964 to another private owner, in 2004 two American conservation groups held a fundraising campaign to acquire it, after which the building has been issued as an visitor’s site.
The house is situated in the midst of meadows and trees on a large natural plot.
To the south, a large grove serves to protect the house, spreading its branches to a considerable height on the travertine terrace.
Very close to the house flows the Fox River, that may occasionally flood due to significant rainfall. This is one of the main reasons the house were constructed on high ground.
Farnsworth House, an icon of the architecture of the Modern Movement, is situated in a natural setting near the river, separated from such by a forest on one side and a meadow on the other.
The building is organized in two rectangular platforms. The first, accessed through four linear steps, has no walls or a roof and acts as a terrace, being supported above the ground by four steel pillars. From here, another five identical steps provide access to the second platform, located 1.5 meters above ground and supported by eight steel pillars. It consists of an initial space, covered but open to the outside on three of its sides, which is used as a porch. This last called attention to two fundamental facts. First, it is completely devoid of walls, which have been replaced by displays of ground-to-ceiling glass and curtains, which if closed, impede vision into the house. Secondly, the house has no internal divisions in play. Only one, toward the middle of the space, a wood box that houses two bathrooms separated by a linen closet, and next to that the kitchen, the so-called “American”. The rest of the interior volume of housing is not compartmentalized, but is distinguished as a lounge area with a fireplace, a dining room and two bedrooms.
This house, which seems not to be, possibly by his own desire for transparency, is, however, an architectural discourse – a meditation on what is more or less on almost anything, to use the words of Mies. A linguistic and spatial reductionism which is made up like a Palladian villa, but rises on a platform. The platform is not the focal point; it is the emptiness – the beams work like a screen to surround the space of the house, that is, the emptiness. An emptiness that his collaborator and admired friend, Philip Johnson, would attempt to fill with privacy in trying to emulate his teacher in the Glass House of New Canaan (1949).
It is clear that a house that dispenses entirely with external walls, as well as internal partitions, is an explicit and absolute resignation to one of the basic characteristics of the domestic spaces: privacy. Moreover, the scarcity of the items used in the construction of the house represents a brilliant synthesis of minimalist philosophy and constructive philosophy of Mies: “less is more.” At the same time, the complete glazing of the walls of the house allows one to perceive the landscape in which it is inserted, so that the building becomes part of the natural environment, making it almost invisible. Thus, there is a negation of the very materiality of the building, so that it could be argued that the Farnsworth House is a house, it seems not to exist.
On the other hand, the separation of the house from the land on which it sits by pillars has been associated with an idea of purity, in this very traditional Japanese architecture. The absolute predominance of glass alluded to the idea of connection between the interior and exterior, between public and private, with the latter, in this case, almost non-existent. That would lead one to his or her own maximum degree of certain currents of architecture: the complete connection between the individual and nature, interrupted only by the inescapable presence of the two bathrooms and the closet.
A central wood core contains sanitary facilities and creates a separation between the kitchen, two bedrooms and the living room.
The 111 m2 terrace is extended toward a meadow and the levels are communicated by means of stairs.
In terms of static structure Farnsworth House is the ultimate expression of minimalism, using only the minimum necessary to ensure the stability of the house.
The minimum elements include 8 columns, separated by a distance of 6.60 meters, supporting the two slabs that form the floor and ceiling.
The interior, with a clear height of 2.85 meters, is only the fragmented into a block of sanitary services that contains the toilets.
The 2.75 meter terrave slab, supported by only 4 columns and leading to the entrance helps to emphasize the immateriality of the house.
The architectural work is done in steel, laminated glass plates and Roman travertine on the floor and deck.
All the steel pillars that hold both platforms are of square section and have been blasted and polished. They have subsequently been painted white, making their welds virtually invisible.
The floor of the house is available in two layers to stay on the inside of a system of so-called calefaccción of radiant floor, and all the drains of the domestic plumbing, which dump into a single sink in the central circular section, which will also stop rainwater from the roof, which is a flat, but slightly inclined toward the center, to allow drainage of water.
The floor is set in two layers, between which is the plumbing and drainage system. The domestic plumbing elements and also the rainwater run-off spill into a central circluar chest. The roof, while mostly flat, is slightly inclined towards the center to force water to run toward the edges.