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Sex and Real Estate, Reconsidered: What Was the True Story Behind Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House?

Unidentified woman, perhaps Edith Farnsworth, at Farnsworth House. Undated.  [BACK] Gorman’s Child Photography. Courtesy and copyright of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.
Unidentified woman, perhaps Edith Farnsworth, at Farnsworth House. Undated. [BACK] Gorman’s Child Photography. Courtesy and copyright of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

In 1951, Mies van der Rohe completed a house in Plano, Illinois that was the epitome of his modernist ideals; with a steel structure surrounded entirely by glass walls the building perfectly connected the user with its idyllic natural setting, and it was - and is - venerated as a masterwork. A lesser-known story about the work is how its owner Dr Edith Farnsworth attempted to sue her architect, in a story of bitterness and unrequited love - but even less well-known, argues Nora Wendl, is the story of what really happened. In this excerpt from her essay "Uncompromising Reasons for Going West: A Story of Sex and Real Estate, Reconsidered," published in Thresholds issue 43: "Scandalous," Wendl examines the overblown and dubious assertions made about Farnsworth's intentions, finding that the truth may be much more simple: perhaps the Farnsworth House is just not a pleasant place to live.

“I have decided to speak up.”

Such is the threshold between a private affair and a public scandal: one person speaks. These are also the opening lines to “The Threat to the Next America,” which appears in the April 1953 issue of House Beautiful. Penned by editor Elizabeth Gordon, the article describes an unnamed, but “highly intelligent, now disillusioned, woman who spent more than $70,000 building a 1-room house that is nothing but a glass cage on stilts.”[1] Gordon warns readers of a design movement sweeping the nation:

Something is rotten in the state of design—and it is spoiling some of our best efforts in modern living. After watching it for several years, after meeting it with silence, House Beautiful has decided to speak out and appeal to your common sense, because it is common sense that is mostly under attack. Two ways of life stretch before us. One leads to the richness of variety, to comfort and beauty. The other, the one we want fully to expose to you, retreats to poverty and unlivability. Worst of all, it contains the threat of cultural dictatorship.[2]

Farnsworth House, south façade and terrace. Undated.  [BACK] Gorman’s Child Photography. Courtesy and copyright of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Farnsworth House, interior. Undated.  [BACK] Gorman’s Child Photography. Courtesy and copyright of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Farnsworth House, looking northwest from the interior of screened-in porch, furnished by Farnsworth. Undated.  [BACK] Gorman’s Child Photography. Courtesy and copyright of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Farnsworth House, exterior, view of south façade and east end of terrace with Farnsworth’s sculptures. Undated.  [BACK] Gorman’s Child Photography. Courtesy and copyright of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

Pierson’s Way / Bates Masi Architects

© Michael Moran © Michael Moran © Michael Moran © Michael Moran

PORT Urbanism and R2 Companies Propose Plan to Revitalize Chicago’s Goose Island

Hoping to reverse the fortunes of this small but distinctive area of Chicago, real estate development firm R2 Companies and urban planning group PORT Urbanism have teamed up to devise a plan to renew Goose Island. A man-made island with a long history of manufacturing, Goose Island lacks the revenue stream of many other Chicago regions, but the development team hopes to improve conditions by 2025 by enabling it to develop into a sustainable, high-tech neighborhood connected to Chicago’s urban grid.

Diagram of existing conditions on Goose Island. Image Courtesy of PORT Diagram of proposed transportation improvements for Goose Island. Image Courtesy of PORT Rendered plan of the Goose Island proposal. Image Courtesy of PORT Diagram of the Goose Island proposal. Image Courtesy of PORT

Variant Studio's Moscow Metro Proposal: The World’s Quietest Metro Station?

When thinking of metro stations, the word quiet generally doesn’t come to mind—with all of the train and pedestrian traffic, not only is noise produced in high quantities, but it is also echoed. With this issue in mind, London-based Variant Studio created their proposal for the competition to design the new Novoperedelkino station in Moscow, Russia. Although not selected as the winning design, Variant was one of five shortlisted teams. Learn more about their silent proposal after the break. 

Metro Platform. Image Courtesy of Variant Studio Metro Tunnel. Image Courtesy of Variant Studio Courtesy of Variant Studio Courtesy of Variant Studio

5CUBE Energy Pavilion / de Siún Scullion Architects

  • Architects: de Siún Scullion Architects
  • Location: Hanover Quay, Dublin, Co. Dublin City, Ireland
  • Design Team: Declan Scullion, Mícheál de Siún
  • Area: 18.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2015
  • Photographs: Ros Kavanagh

© Ros Kavanagh © Ros Kavanagh © Ros Kavanagh © Ros Kavanagh

Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery Named 2015 Museum of the Year

The acclaimed Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, northern England, has been named by the Art Fund as the 2015 Museum of the Year. The project has been hailed by the jury as "one of the great museum achievements of recent years," citing its "transformation – architecturally, curatorially, and as a destination" – as a key reason for its success. The building, which has been received well by critics, was comprehensively restored and extended by MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight) and re-opened to the public earlier this year. Since then it has seen record-breaking visitor numbers, partly due to the appeal of the building and partly due to "the creativity and originality of its outreach programmes during closure."

House Dornbirn / k_m architektur

Courtesy of k_m architektur Courtesy of k_m architektur Courtesy of k_m architektur Courtesy of k_m architektur

New Leather Workshop in the Isère Department / Jean-François Schmit

  • Architects: Jean-François Schmit
  • Location: Les Abrets, France
  • Partners: Inex (Bet Fluides Et Environnemental), Ar-C (Bet Structure), Odc Economie, Peutz Acousticiens, Slg Paysage
  • Area: 5500.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2015
  • Photographs: Courtesy of Jean-François Schmit

Courtesy of Jean-François Schmit Courtesy of Jean-François Schmit Courtesy of Jean-François Schmit Courtesy of Jean-François Schmit

Kakko House / YYAA

  • Architects: YYAA
  • Location: Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan
  • Architect In Charge: Yoshihiro Yamamoto
  • Area: 113.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2014
  • Photographs: Keishiro Yamada

© Keishiro Yamada © Keishiro Yamada © Keishiro Yamada © Keishiro Yamada

Jeju Bayhill Pool & Villa / Kim Dong-jin + L'EAU Design

  • Architects: Kim Dong-jin, L'EAU Design
  • Location: Yeraehaean-ro, Jeju-do, South Korea
  • Design Team: Lee sang-hak, Lee young-sun, Park hae-in, Park Jong-beom , Jung Dong-hui, Ju Ik-hyeon, Yoon Ji-hye
  • Project Year: 2013
  • Photographs: Sun Namgoong

© Sun Namgoong © Sun Namgoong © Sun Namgoong © Sun Namgoong

Vivarium / HYPOTHESIS + Stu/D/O Architect

  • Architects: HYPOTHESIS, Stu/D/O Architect
  • Location: Bangkok, Thailand
  • Area: 600.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2015
  • Photographs: Pakkawat Paisitthawee

© Pakkawat Paisitthawee © Pakkawat Paisitthawee © Pakkawat Paisitthawee © Pakkawat Paisitthawee

VIA 57 West: Challenging Form and Urban Development in Manhattan

Join the CTBUH New York City Chapter for a discussion on the VIA 57 West building. Guest speakers Bjarke Ingels (BIG), Aine Brazil (Thornton Tomasetti), and Jeff Crompton (Hunter Roberts) will discuss the architecture, engineering and the construction process behind this unique structure. VIA stands tall at 467 feet and is one of the most architecturally distinctive buildings constructed in New York City. The building provides a dramatic visual gateway to Manhattan’s skyline along the Hudson River. VIA is a hybrid between the European perimeter block and a traditional Manhattan high-rise development. The building’s unique shape combines the advantages of both: the compactness and efficiency of a courtyard building providing density, a sense of intimacy, and expansive views. The form of the building shifts depending on the viewer’s vantage point. While appearing like a pyramid from the West Side Highway, it turns into a dramatic glass spire when seen from West 58th Street.

Trinity Apartments / K20 Architecture

  • Architects: K20 Architecture
  • Location: Melbourne VIC, Australia
  • Developer: Longboat Development Group
  • Project Year: 2015
  • Photographs: Courtesy of K20 Architecture

Courtesy of K20 Architecture Courtesy of K20 Architecture Courtesy of K20 Architecture Courtesy of K20 Architecture

Dubai to Host World's First 3D Printed Building

The United Arab Emirates National Innovation Committee has unveiled plans to build the world's first 3D printed structure with a massive, 20-foot-tall 3D printer. Though many structures have utilized 3D printing, none have been entirely built by using the technology. Everything - the building's structure, interior finishes, and furniture - will be 3D printed in sections and then assembled on site, according to a report by 3DPrint. The 2,000-square-foot building will then be used to house the Museum of the Future headquarters in Dubai.

Fairphone Head Office in Amsterdam / Melinda Delst Interior Design

© James Stokes Photography © James Stokes Photography © James Stokes Photography © James Stokes Photography

MAD Tops Out on Beijing's Chaoyang Park Plaza

MAD Architects has topped out on Chaoyang Park Plaza, a 120-meter-high mixed use development rising in the central business district (CBD) of Beijing on the southern edge of Chaoyang Park, one of the city's largest parks. A product of Ma Yansong’s “Shanshui City” concept, which aims reintroduce nature into the urban realm, the building is designed to "push the boundary of the urbanization process in modern cosmopolitan life by creating a dialogue between artificial scenery and natural landscapes."

Dona Ana Rosa Institute / RoccoVidal Perkins+Will

  • Architects: RoccoVidal Perkins+Will
  • Location: São Paulo - São Paulo, Brasil
  • Project Team: : Luiz Fernando Rocco, Fernando Bento Vidal, Douglas Tolaine, Érika Daddario, Adriana Dias, Cezar Tadao, Giovanna Oliva, Fred Zara, Fabio Carone
  • Project Area: 850 sqm
  • Project Year: 2013
  • Photographs: Daniel Ducci

© Daniel Ducci © Daniel Ducci © Daniel Ducci © Daniel Ducci

Nader Tehrani Named Dean of Architecture at The Cooper Union

Nader TehraniMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) architecture professor and founding principal of Office dA and NADAAA, has been appointed dean of The Cooper Union's Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. From 2010 to 2014, Tehrani served as the head of MIT's Department of Architecture, while leading two offices in Boston and New York City. He will now join Cooper this month and focus his efforts on speculative research and interdisciplinary collaboration.