1 Edith Farnsworth was a jill-of-all-trades. The well-to-do kidney specialist was also a conservatory-trained violinist, a published poet, and a translator of Italian verse, writes Alex Beam in Broken Glass. She met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at a dinner party in 1945, and the world-famous architect began designing her retreat in Plano soon after.
2 Their early relationship was an intense, intellectual one, full of Fox River picnics and late nights at Mies’s office. It was probably more than business, Beam writes; Mies only technically had a wife back in Germany. But an affair is not technically documented, either.
3 The Farnsworth House became the world’s fanciest pet project. The doctor intended to spend $8,000 to $10,000. In the end, it cost around $74,000 (equal to about 10 times that today). Mies was a fussy perfectionist. Farnsworth reportedly told her nephew, “My house is a monument to Mies van der Rohe, and I’m paying for it.”
4 As the bills piled up, their relationship soured. They sued each other in 1951, him seeking unpaid fees and her alleging he was a hack. Trial highlights: Mies stowing cigars in the bricks of the Kendall County Courthouse to smoke during breaks; Farnsworth playing dumb to the whole project, only to be outed by a photograph of her looking at the blueprints. Mies won, and the pair spent the rest of their lives hating each other. Ah, l’amour!
5 Maybe part of the reason Farnsworth got so cranky was the house is unlivable. In the summer, the glass box — essentially a greenhouse — suffered from insufficient ventilation, fully steamed-up windows, and a lack of air-conditioning. “You feel as though you are in a car in the rain with a windshield wiper that doesn’t work,” Farnsworth told Newsweek. Most problematic: flooding. Though the dwelling rests on five-foot stilts, in 1996 water rose to five feet inside, high enough to whisk a Warhol portrait of Liz Taylor off the wall and away downriver, never to be seen again.
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