Farnsworth House 2015
Last week. Maybe next week too.
It has been 13 months since I last blogged about the Farnsworth House (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1951). In that blog I detailed the various options that had been studied to try to conserve the house despite the increased flooding of the Fox River at its location near Plano, Illinois. Continue Reading
Palm Springs Modernism Week Again!
I had the opportunity, thanks to the wonderful Mark Davis, to again speak at Palm Springs Modernism Week, which is the coolest, most colorful preservation event anywhere. I reprised my 2011 talk on Preserving Modernism in Chicago with an update on those icons of Modernism, the Farnsworth House (how do I flood thee? Let me count the ways….), the sadly demolished Prentice Women’s Hospital (Philistines is too good a word – the Philistines were in fact civilized) and of course the soon to be geothermal Unity Temple. So let’s get these pictures out of the way so we can move on to Palm Springs itself. Continue Reading
Palm Springs Modernism Week
Palm Springs tramway gas station, Frey and Chambers, 1962
I have seen the future of historic preservation, and it is Mid-century Modernism. It isn’t just the influence of Mad Men or Dwell, which recently celebrated its first decade. The writing was on the wall in the 1990s when Anne Sullivan, who replaced me as Director of the Historic Preservation Program at SAIC, started her class “From Lustron to Neon: Preserving the Recent Past” and within two years it was the most popular elective EVER. I managed to get my work on architect Barry Byrne into a Mid-Century panel in 2002 at the Society of Architectural Historians Conference, thanks to Victoria Young and Christine Madrid French, and Chris is now the Director of Trust Modern, a supporter of Palm Springs Modernism Week, which draws quadruple digits to the desert oasis to feast on the glories of steel cantilevers, ribbed concrete and floor-to-ceiling glass. Continue Reading
Sharp Building 2009
Most people think of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as the institution that resided above and below the museum it gave birth to over a century ago. Yet for over 30 years the school has had its own building and in the last 20 years the School has grown even more, filling five different buildings in the Loop and occupying space in even more.
The news officially broke yesterday that Landmarks Illinois would cease to be the operating partner for the Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site and one of the great modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s most significant buildings. Landmarks Illinois joined John Bryan and the National Trust in buying the Farnsworth House at Sotheby’s auction house in December, 2003, thus saving it from a potentially devastating move away from its riverine location in Plano, Illinois.
In 2003, the National Trust was already well aware of the problems associated with operating house museums, having held a conference entitled “Are There Too Many House Museums” 18 months earlier. The historic significance of this conference has only swelled in the ensuing seven years, although arguably the Fox River has swelled even more, coming within inches of the house in 2007 and inundating it in 2008, a mere 12 years after the last 100-year flood. Here’s the wardrobe, where you can see the flood damage – and this is only a 12-year old replacement from 1996. Continue Reading
House Museums and Ultimate Use
Gaylord Building 2004
During the National Preservation Conference for the last many years, Fridays are the busiest day, beginning at 7:15 AM with breakfast with the Site Council Chairs and Trust President Dick Moe. I represent both the Gaylord Building and the Farnsworth House. The former has a decent endowment while the latter does not, and of course the economic climate was at the top of the agenda for all 29 of the Trust sites.
This is always a fascinating meeting, especially since the Kykuit Conference, where the Trust sites took the “beyond the velvet ropes” step, encouraging Boards and staff at historic sites to go beyond the “museum” model for historic houses. This is of course a great interest of mine as readers of this blog will know. I have been proposing to the Trust for several years the idea of a national database of all historic sites that could be used for corporate meetings, institutional retreats, filming, and a whole variety of events. These things all happen of course on an individual Trust property level, but a national database – perhaps licensed to other sites as well – could be a powerful funding tool. Continue Reading
What’s Going On At Robie House?
THE BLOG BELOW IS FROM OCTOBER 2008. The issues described below have been fully and completely resolved and the restored Robie House is MORE open for tours than ever before. FOR CURRENT INFORMATION ON ROBIE HOUSE, GO HERE.
October 2008 blog begins here:
Last week, Blair Kamin reported in the Trib on two of the iconic house museums that draw tourists from all over the world. I am involved, through both Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust, in the Farnsworth House. After the devastating flood last month, tours were abruptly cancelled, even as people arrived in Chicago from every corner of the world to see the house. We gathered, brainstormed, and decided to allow tours again, through the restoration. These tours will cost more – a rare chance to see “Farnsworth House with a black eye” as Landmarks Illinois’ Jim Peters said. Continue Reading
floods keep me busy
It felt like I was crisscrossing the northern half of the state last week, and in a sense, I was. I did two tours for the Art Institute on Wednesday and Thursday to LaSalle, to visit the incomparable Hegeler-Carus mansion, an 1874 Italianate-cum-Second Empire extravaganza that never left the family, and to ride the new historic canal boat on the I & M Canal at Lock 14. The floods of almost two weeks earlier prevented us from riding on Wednesday and curtailed our ride Thursday.
All photos courtesy Landmarks Illinois, 2008.
The biggest news over the weekend was the incredible flooding throughout the state and the two feet of water and mud that soaked the interior of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano. I am doubly responsible for this landmark, which is owned by the National Trust (I’m on the Board) and operated by Landmarks Illinois (I’m on the Board). The immediate hit is coming to Landmarks Illinois, which will lose $60,000 in tour income in the coming months – the height of the tourist season. It is tragic that this disaster occurred at all, doubly tragic that it occurred at the start of the two best tourism months in Northeastern Illinois – September and October. Continue Reading
Week before last they moved my office – while I was off doing tours of the Farnsworth House (1946-51, Mies van der Rohe) and the Ford House in Aurora (1947-50, Bruce Goff). The tours considered the vast artistic difference between two mid-century icons built at the exact same time, both with free plans and framed in steel, but one an orthogonal exercise in classical purism of steel, glass, travertine and primavera wood, the other an exuberant disk, a romantic fantasy of coal, glass cullets, rope and cypress that, according to its longtime owner, can actually prevent depression.
In concert with two days of visiting steel houses with glass walls, my new office has two walls of windows and I have been moving at home too so I unpack a box at work and carry it home on the train for re-use. Our winter of discontent has been also a winter of boxes, which makes one realize how little is actually needed for the everyday, since I have many things that have been sitting in boxes in the basement of the new house (new being 1897) since November and for the most part they are not missed. Continue Reading