Illinois Students Bring New Side to Modernist Farnsworth

About an hour southwest of downtown Chicago is Plano, Illinois, a small city that’s home to an iconic structure: the Farnsworth House. For those who don’t know it, this steel and glass structure—an embodiment of modernist ideals—was commissioned by Dr. Edith Farnsworth as a country retreat and brought to life by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a master pioneer of modernist architecture.

For years, the Farnsworth House has served as a popular tourist attraction, particularly since joining the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and then becoming a National Historic Landmark in 2006. But lately, attention has been falling not on Farnsworth, but on a building site about a half-mile from the property.

The site is adjacent to the Farnsworth Visitors Center and is occupied by what’s shaping up to be a uniquely round, elevated structure. And it’s surrounded by graduate students from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Its builders have dubbed it “Barnsworth,” and it’s about to take an important role in the Farnsworth landscape.

Following the 2008 flooding of Farnsworth, which damaged both the house and several of the pieces inside, the property’s director, Whitney French, decided that a new exhibition space was needed. For that, she turned to design-build professor Professor Frank Flury, who presented the project to his students and then spent two semesters helping them design a plan.

“It’s a 20-sided structure, but it’ll appear as a fully round barn,” said Owen Kane, an architecture student participating in the build project. “Originally it was going to be a square, but there’s no way to compete with the Farnsworth House. The design shifted to meet the Plano setting, the silos and round barns.”

Barnsworth is being constructed from hundreds of planks of cedar siding, all of which are being nailed together by hand. The structure’s cooling system is completely hidden and it’s crowned with a box-shaped cupola that floods the interior with natural light.

Already more than halfway complete, students anticipate they’ll unveil Barnsworth this September. In addition to housing permanent exhibits, taken from the original Farnsworth House after the 1998 flood, Barnsworth will also house traveling exhibits, hopefully attracting a greater number of visitors each year.

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Author: Mark Miles

Mark Miles works for Dreamtown, one of Chicago's largest real estate search firms. Editor's note: While Mark works for Dreamtown, his posts are NOT sponsored content. No money or any other compensation is exchanged for his articles.

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