Stephen Bayley

The magnificent fiasco of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House

Instead of the comfortable cottage she’d commissioned, Edith Farnsworth ended up with a costly, impractical modernist masterpiece — and a law suit, says Alex Beam

A magnificent catastrophe: Farnsworth House is one of the finest examples of an architect indulging his vision at the expense of a client. Credit: Alamy

John Ruskin believed the most beautiful things are also the most useless, citing lilies and peacocks. Had he known about the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, a rural community 50 miles west of Chicago, he might have suggested it too. Except this modernist building of 1951 is an evolved expression of the emerging industrial culture Ruskin so despised.

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