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mies farnsworth house exterior view

The Farnsworth House architecture and design

Located at 14520 River Rd, Plano, IL 60545, United States, the Farnsworth House, created by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), is famed for its beautiful architecture, functional living spaces enclosed in a light, pure, fragile-seeming glass envelope with an extended terrace hovering above the building’s setting in the placid meadow country of Plano, Illinois.

mies farnsworth house exterior view


Commissioned by Edith Farnsworth in 1945 as a weekend getaway, the single-story, open-plan building was pared down to the simplest elements needed for services and accommodation. The house was intended for the use of one person, so interior privacy was not a consideration. But external privacy was another matter.

Edith Farnsworth working on Farnsworth house design

Edith Farnsworth with Myron Goldsmith, a student and later, employee, of Mies van der Rohe in 1950

The huge 10-acre (4-ha) site initially guaranteed seclusion. But the design’s fame spread rapidly, and practical considerations overrode the modern architect’s vision of translucency; drapes had to he fitted to shut out sightseers fascinated by the architect’s visionary concept.


Farnsworth house plan by Mies

Farnsworth house plan

Structure was of fundamental importance to the international style, in which concrete and steel frames allowed formerly weight-bearing walls to become mere “curtains.” Functionalism (that the building’s function determines its form) was all- important, generating original design concepts to serve individuated needs.

System Mies devised to solve drainage problems

System Mies van der Rohe devised to solve the drainage problems

Farnsworth House is constructed mainly of glass with a steel frame, modern construction materials with which Mies van der Rohe demonstrated his feeling for construction, materials, and new building technologies.

He had the conviction that “there could be no architecture of our time without the prior acceptance of these new scientific and technical, developments.” In this Project, his perfectionism evident in the finish of the materials and the precision,
of the workmanship. Mies van der Rohe has been compared to the abstract painter Mondrian in his “absolute pitch” in determining proportion and spatial relationships.

Interior of Farnsworth house

Observe how the interior space is divided using wooden partitions

The interior of the main envelope of Farnsworth House, which measures 28 feet by 77 feet (8.5 X 23.5m), is divided into sleeping, eating, sitting and service areas, with partitions of natural timber.

One end of this rectangle is open to form a large covered terrace. The white-painted steel frame, suspended by eight I-shaped columns exterior to the main envelope, shows as a grid against the surrounding tall trees.

A second floating rectangular podium, faced with the same travertine stone as the interior, is slightly set from and lower than the main house, forming a second, open terrace. My friends from PRO Hunting Hacks helped me about knowing the current house plan.

NATURE rules in Farnsworth house’s architecture

Damage caused by flood waters to wardrobe

The wardrobe of Farnsworth house was damaged by flood waters. Picture of wardrobe being replaced

From inside the house, the view is of the meadow, the trees, and the Fox River beyond, the relationship to nature interrupted only by the narrow steel window frames. As Mies van der Rohe said: “Nature should also live its own life, we should not destroy it with the colors of our houses and interiors. But we should try to bring nature, houses and human beings together in a higher unity.”

But nature, for all the respect the architect paid it, struck back. The glass envelope created a climatic nightmare for the owner cold with condensation in winter, stifling and insects infested in the summer. (The architect would allow no screening of doors or terraces). The architectural tourists and nature itself turned paradise into a nightmare.