Mies van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modernist Masterpiece
The true story of the intimate relationship that gave birth to the Farnsworth House, a masterpiece of twentieth-century architecture—and disintegrated into a bitter feud over love, money, gender, and the very nature of art.
“An intimate portrait . . . alive with architectural intrigue.”—Architect Magazine
In 1945, Edith Farnsworth asked the German architect Mies van der Rohe, already renowned for his avant-garde buildings, to design a weekend home for her outside of Chicago. Edith was a woman ahead of her time—unmarried, she was a distinguished medical researcher, as well as an accomplished violinist, translator, and poet. The two quickly began spending weekends together, talking philosophy, Catholic mysticism, and, of course, architecture over wine-soaked picnic lunches. Their personal and professional collaboration would produce the Farnsworth House, one of the most important works of architecture of all time, a blindingly original structure made up almost entirely of glass and steel.
But the minimalist marvel, built in 1951, was plagued by cost overruns and a sudden chilling of the two friends’ mutual affection. Though the building became world famous, Edith found it impossible to live in, because of its constant leaks, flooding, and complete lack of privacy. Alienated and aggrieved, she lent her name to a public campaign against Mies, cheered on by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mies, in turn, sued her for unpaid monies. The ensuing lengthy trial heard evidence of purported incompetence by an acclaimed architect, and allegations of psychological cruelty and emotional trauma. A commercial dispute litigated in a rural Illinois courthouse became a trial of modernist art and architecture itself.
Interweaving personal drama and cultural history, Alex Beam presents a stylish, enthralling narrative tapestry, illuminating the fascinating history behind one of the twentieth century’s most beautiful and significant architectural projects.