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Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Landmark


The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house.

Farnsworth House is literally a glass house, situated along the Fox River in rural Plano, Illinois.

For Dr. Edith Farnsworth, the glass house was her retreat.

“Dr. Farnsworth was a practicing kidney specialist in the city of Chicago and wanted to have some place away from town where she could relax from the stresses of her career,” explains Maurice Parrish, Executive Director, Farnsworth House.

Parrish, who works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says that in 1945, Farnsworth turned to well-known architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to come up with the plans. The design set off a trend.

“This is the house that made modernism popular in the United States and around the world,” Parrish notes.

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe knew the lot was in a flood plain, and designed the house with that in mind.

"He elevated the house five feet three inches above the ground, which, according to his research, would make it at least a foot higher than the highest recorded flood level up until that time,” Parrish explains.

Damaged by floodwaters

But even during construction in the early 1950s, the water came up higher than anticipated.

Since then, floodwaters have penetrated the home numerous times, causing extensive damage.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation now manages the property, and Parrish said it is considering relocating the structure.

“Unfortunately there is no perfect solution,” he says. "One option that is not on the table is doing nothing."

Trend-setting design

Farnsworth House is more than a trend-setting design for Chicago architect Dirk Lohan. It was designed by his grandfather, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and inspired his own career.

“If he had been his own client, he would have designed the house exactly the way it is,” Lohan says.

Lohan favors installing a hydraulic elevator system to lift the home above rising floodwaters and keep it where it is.

“I think he would say what I am saying, that that house was designed for that location," he says. "Why would we have to move it if we have the technical ability to protect it in that location?”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, together with the non-profit group Landmark Illinois, will make the final decision later this year on where future visitors will experience Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist architectural masterpiece.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

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