The Farnsworth House

Iconic Building of the Month

The Farnsworth House is known as “the original glass house.” Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1945, the German architect pioneered the idea of the modern home. Dr. Edith Farnsworth is the client who made it possible. A Chicago nephrologist, she desired a weekend home built on her 10-acre wooded property near the Fox River. Mies van der Rohe and his client developed a close relationship. After all, she made it possible for him to create a building that was the first of its time. An inspiration for minimalism, the design achieves the seamless views many modernist architects strive for today.

The 1,400-square-foot home was completed in 1951. Each aspect exhibits the architect’s passion for simplicity. He adopted the phrase “less is more” and insisted that the concept for the home be “almost nothing.” Therefore, the roof is made of a steel framed, concrete slab, and another slab covered in heated travertine marble for the floor. In between, a thin membrane of glass constructs the walls — revealing a picturesque view of the trees, water and sky.

A single tube contains all of the utilities, as it descends from the home’s center into the ground. Raised 5’ 3” off the ground, this elevation was meant to protect it from flooding. The concept was that the house would “float.” Lord Peter Palumbo bought the home two decades later, and after a lengthy bidding auction, Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation purchased it in 2003.