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Flooding the Farnsworth
Flooding at the Farnsworth

From the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, via Edward Lifson a.k.a. The New Modernist, some photos of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House under threat by floodwaters from the Fox River, this after visits from Brad Pitt and one other nominal celebrity.

Preservationists and Modernists certainly must be agonizing over these photos.

Flooding at the Farnsworth

Iconoclasts, on the other hand, must be praying for yet more torrential downpours.

One regular Pruned reader, an avowed anti-Modernist, sarcastically asked us if this is what “they” meant by “architecture engaging with the landscape”? He was wondering, or so we assume, whether architectural historians, critics and students--in overpraising the house (and Philip Johnson's Glass House and Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water) for harmoniously intertwining with nature--are simply full of shit, as what they think of as a harmonious engagement (or the idea of those high priests of Modernism “designing with nature”, or at the very least acknowledging context beyond formal and material concerns) is an illusion.

“Nature has been subjugated. There, it is expected to be static, as structured as the building. That or it must act within a prescribed set of parameters. Abnormal hydrology is frowned upon, for instance. So harmonyschmarmony. But thankfully, when things like this happen, architecture is laughingly displayed as impotent.” Too harsh.

In its defense, however, the house does look beautiful and quite striking in its state of quasi-failure.

Flooding at the Farnsworth

Meanwhile, we are eagerly waiting to hear, hopefully accompanying other reports of Brad Pitt's generous donation to architecture, that proposals are underway for a levee system to protect the Farnsworth, millions of dollars worth of flood protection that most assuredly will fail in order to further sustain the illusion. We're waiting, because it will be hilarious to hear them.

POSTSCRIPT #1: The Farnsworth Flood of 2008: Blair Kamin, architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, reports here, here and here — the comments are worth a read. Meanwhile, we wonder how many postscripts bearing this sort of news will we add in the future.

Chicken Wing
  • Anonymous
  • August 30, 2007 at 4:27:00 AM CDT
  • I remember hearing that this happens quite often, that the house is in a site that is flood prone.

    And that this is the reason for lifting the house off the ground in the first place.

    It may be wishful thinking though...

  • Anonymous
  • August 30, 2007 at 10:00:00 AM CDT
  • Although a seminal Modernist design and sad to see (more of a Schadenfreude) in this state, it is a flawed design when the architect (or any other designer) designs to their imagined Nature, rather than to actual nature.

  • Anonymous
  • August 30, 2007 at 11:15:00 AM CDT
  • Yeah I was under the impression also that this was actually part of the reason mies lifted the house. The real problem as far as I understand it is that he did not do it enough to account for the growing flood plane and so now it is possible to flood over the risers.

    I thought they were going to put hydraulics under the house to lift it, not build some silly levees. Hydraulics was a much more awesome solution, and maybe cheaper in the long run considering levees is about as permanent a solution as mies' risers...

    Actually the house seems as much in its element in those photos as it does while not flooded. Pretty cool.

  • Brendan Crain
  • August 30, 2007 at 1:46:00 PM CDT
  • Too harsh, indeed. Not to mention kind of absurd, considering that the stilts are doing exactly what they were intended to do. They failed during the massive floods in the mid-1990s, but those were a freak occurence.

    I guess I'm confused as to what, exactly, this reader's "critique" is based on. Are they proposing that we live in trees? Any house on that spot, regardless of the style in which it is designed, would be under just as much water. If anything, this is a success of modern design.

    Masturbatory fatalistic "criticisms" aside, some levee proposals would be entertaining.

  • Anonymous
  • August 31, 2007 at 3:48:00 AM CDT
  • Mr. Pruned, please read and study a little more, seeing pictures not always show all the complexity of things... I think that any 1st architecture course student know more about this house and architecture in general than you.
    Otherwise, thank you for the pictures.

  • Brendan Crain
  • August 31, 2007 at 11:31:00 AM CDT
  • Mr. Annonymous, please learn grammar before you go criticize person who write blog.

    Also may be a big help for you: learn what quote is.

  • Anonymous
  • September 4, 2007 at 1:12:00 PM CDT
  • I am confused. IIt looks like the first floor of the house is just abouve the floodwaters. Is that not the case? Is the problem that you can't get to the house during a flood event or that the house suffers structural damage? Can't tell from the pictures.

  • Anonymous
  • December 9, 2009 at 2:47:00 AM CST
  • Just to clarify flooding like this can have no structural damage to the house. This is because it rest on a series of steel beams.
    As for access this house was meant as a weekend retreat so if the drive is flooded out no big deal just a less fun weekend.

    To those that criticize this piece of architecture, if you haven't been there you have no right to talk. It is not about how the building looks but how you feel in it.

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