Saturday, 23 July 2011

It’s all about Mies

Ever since my Design Studies days at university, I have always admired the architectural designs of Mies Van Der Rohe. This was even further reinforced when Jules and I were fortunate enough to visit the Barcelona Pavillion in Spain last year. So while in Chicago, we were determined to explore more of the works of this great modernist architect as this was the city that became his home following his exodus from Germany in the years preceding World War Two, along with many other artists and designers from the famed Bauhaus School. In the 1940’s, the city of Chicago welcomed his arrival and over the years it allowed him to complete many of his most famous buildings. As we made our way around the city, his distinctive designs appeared to be everywhere and we were both amazed at the amount of major public works he actually designed in the city and at the various universities. However, in order to view one of his most famous domestic buildings, we had to travel outside of Chicago to the area of Plano to visit the much acclaimed ‘Farnsworth House’. To assist us in our quest we recruited the assistance of Larry, a Chicago local who takes private tours to this iconic design. Having worked as a guide for many years, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the life and work of Mies and provided us with invaluable background information regarding his various designs and in particular Farnsworth House. This modest one bedroom home has only recently been open to the public following its acquisition in 2004 by the National Trust. In 2008 it had the misfortune to suffer severe flood damage resulting in major restoration work that lasted a full year. However, on the day we visited it looked picture perfect, sitting majestically in lush woods close to the same gently flowing river that had previously caused so much damage. The use of white painted steel and white Italian marble is in stark contrast to the designs Mies created for Chicago, but its simplicity is justifiably regarded as a true celebration of modernism. As Jules and I walk toward the house and eventually stood inside, we could see why. With its extensive use of glass, the house is a platform to admire the surrounding nature. The building appears to float above the green grass below with only a few vertical beams lightly touching the earth. We felt privileged to experience the building on such a perfect day, but like many have done, we speculated upon its future. The building of a nearby highway (which can be clearly heard) and increasing flooding due to man-made changes to the natural flow of rainwater is increasingly jeopardising the integrity of the site. While it stands today much as it did in 1951, this might not always be the case and it will take a major commitment by the Trust in the coming years. Certainly with an increasing amount of visitors to this important Mies building, it suggests that it’s well worth preserving for future generations to also admire.

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