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Inside the Plan to Save Mies Van Der Rohe's Farnsworth House

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Despite the best efforts of pioneering modernist and one-time Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, mother nature has had it out for his Farnsworth House, a one-room weekend retreat in Plano, Illinois that inspired Philip Johnson's greater-known Glass House. But though Johnson's will soon be engaged in a high-art disappearing act, the Farnsworth is facing the possibility of a for-realsies departure, thanks to the repeated flooding of the nearby Fox River. Though Mies designed the home on stilts to avoid damage in just such an eventuality, the recent rise of disastrous "100-year floods" in the area has seen the home inundated three times over the last 18 years, with the worst flood smashing one of its large plate-glass windows, sending over five feet of water inside and causing thousands of dollars in damage. Faced with either moving the home or undertaking some invasive preventative measures, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has come up with a plan that involves a little of both, plus a set of hydraulic jacks and a sizable hole in the ground.

If the repeated flooding of a famous American home sounds all too familiar, that's because it was happening rather recently with Frank Lloyd Wright's Bachman-Wilson House, which was restored, dismantled, and moved to a museum halfway across the country to spare it from further damage. As it stands, the National Trust's current plan would have the Farnsworth temporarily moved so a pit could be dug underneath it, and then put back, but atop hydraulic jacks able to lift it above any abnormally high flood waters. If that proposal sounds kind of wild, that's because it is; expensive, too, with the hydraulic system alone projected at $2.5M to $3M.

The trust presented that plan along with two others at a closed-door meeting of architects and preservationists in Chicago earlier this week, the results of which have yet to come out. The initial push for jacking up the Farnsworth looks stronger than it was with previous plans, one of which suggested putting the home atop a 9-foot mound built on its current site, with another proposing moving it several hundred feet further away from the river. The Chicago Tribune calls the latter a "non-starter," because the group of preservationists who bought it in 2003 at a Sotheby's auction for $7.5M argued that moving it to another location would compromise Mies' vision, and setting it elsewhere on the same grounds would put it too close to a noisy nearby road.

Speaking with the Tribune, National Trust president Stephanie Meeks said that the risk of the hydraulics proposal is in the "new application of an old technology," necessitating that the trust overcome "the question mark in people's minds. People will want to be satisfied that it's the simplest solution."

· Plan would lift Farnsworth House out of harm's way [Chicago Tribune]
· All Farnsworth House coverage [Curbed National]
· All Mies van der Rohe coverage [Curbed National]