Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Form without function.
Farnsworth house is truly beautiful architecture. Designed by Mies van der Rohe for a prominent urologist, Dr. Edith Farnsworth. The house is a triumph of aesthetic design. Architecture books sing the house's praises and the architect's vision. And who can argue? It's complimentary relationship with the environment, the way the structure is approached, how it sits above the ground, its clean lines all validate the greatness of its design. So I suppose it should not be to impolite to ask, what was it like to live in this triumph of modernism?
According to Dr Farnsworth:
The truth is that in this house with its four walls of glass I feel like a prowling animal, always on the alert. I am always restless. Even in the evening. I feel like a sentinel on guard day and night. I can rarely stretch out and relax…What else? I don’t keep garbage under my sink. Do you know why? Because you can see the whole “kitchen” from the road on the way in here and the can would spoil the appearance of the whole house. So I hide it in the closet further down from the sink. Mies talks about “free space”: but his space is very fixed. I can’t even put a clothes hanger in my house without considering how it affects everything from outside. Any arrangement of furniture becomes a major problem, because the house is transparent, like an X-ray
A night, lit up like a lantern and situated as it was in a forest, the house was a beacon to insects from miles around. Fly screens were not designed for the house, as it would have spoiled the purity of the design, so you couldn't open a window. In winter it was freezing, in summer a furnace. The personally selected marble on the entry steps needed to be scrubbed regularly since the falling leaves tended to stain it. It was unlivable.
A house's primary reason for being is to provide us with shelter and comfort. If a house is unable to do this it has failed in its function. As a machine for living in, it is broken. Yet architects continue to praise this house lavishly. A beautiful house that cannot be lived in; a triumph of form over function. The triumph of Modernism, the failure of modern Architecture.