A Squared: A Field Trip to Farnsworth House

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Field Trip to Farnsworth House

Aside from my City Walk posts, I don't often get a chance to talk architecture with you on the blog. I know this is mostly a food and Chicago lifestyle blog, but architecture is a passion that doesn't usually get discussed here. I haven't practiced architecture for several years now, but 5 years of intensive architectural study is hard to forget-- especially when your husband is still a practicing architect.

So, when a group of Alex's co-workers organized a day trip out to Plano, Illinois for a tour of the famous Farnsworth House I was so excited to be invited along with them!

Let me begin by saying that we ended up with the most perfect beautiful crisp fall day for a tour. The walk from the visitor's center to the actual house is about a half mile down a wooded path, so I can only imagine a rainy day would make the trek out there a bit miserable. With that in mind (and the fact that they make you take your shoes off and wear only socks in the house), plan your outfit accordingly.

Let's just take a second to admire the amazing light and the gorgeous coloring here, shall we?

As a bit of background for you readers that are not architecture nerds (likely, many of you), the Farnsworth House was designed by German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and built in 1951 as a vacation home for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. The home is a simple glass box, but is one of the most famous representations of modern architecture in the US and abroad. Studying the design of this home is a rite of passage for architecture students.

Mies was one of the godfathers of modern architecture and the Farnsworth House is one of many renowned projects he designed including several buildings in Chicago: 860-880 Lakeshore Drive, 330 N. Wabash (a.k.a. IBM Plaza), and Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology where he served as director of the architecture department. IIT is the alma mater of Alex and a handful of his co-workers and Crown Hall housed their architecture studios and classrooms, so this tour hit even closer to home for them.

The Farnsworth House was designed to make a statement: A simple geometric figure composed of sharp lines situated in the middle of a very natural prairie setting. The house is enclosed completely by large panes of glass, so even when you are inside it still feels like you are completely enveloped by nature-- the ideal modern country getaway home.

Fun fact: The home was designed to appear as if it were hovering above the ground and even so, it has been damaged several times over the past few decades when the adjacent Fox River flooded right up to and over the ground level of the house. There are several spots in the home where you can see water damage (although I have no photos to show-- interior photography was not permitted) even though they have made provisions to prepare for future floods. The home was designed with very little clothing storage which, as you can imagine, didn't fly with a female homeowner. Dr. Farnsworth had a wardrobe designed later to be added to the home (much to Mies's dismay as it disrupted the perfect open floor plan he had designed). The wardrobe has seen so much water damage that it has since been removed from the home and now resides in its own home next to the visitor's center.

I would also just like to give some kudos to our awesome tour guide-- she was interesting, knowledgeable, and entertaining. Even after studying this house ad nauseum in school, she shed light on a number of things that I didn't know about it. She even took a group photo of us and said "Say Mies!" Adorable.

If you're an architecture lover and you're in the area, the Farnsworth House is certainly worth a visit. The home is about an hour drive west of Chicago in the city of Plano.


  1. I live in Chicago and need to go see this for myself. I have seen the house online but have never been in person. This looks incredible and it does look like you went on the most perfect fall day.

    1. Alecia, I was a little embarrassed that I had never been before but it was definitely worth the trip-- not nearly as long a drive as I expected.

      And going in the fall was just beautiful. Highly recommend it!

  2. Unlike other types of structural damage, such as fire damage, which usually require some sort of catastrophic event to occur, damage from water can set in at any time and with little warning.
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