Broken Glass: 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.
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, sharing interests in idealistic philosophy, Catholic mysticism, wine-soaked picnics, and architecture. Their collaboration would produce one of the most important works of architecture of all time, a blindingly original house 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 the transparent house, and she began 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 one of the world’s greatest architects, and allegations of psychological cruelty and emotional trauma. A commercial dispute litigated in a rural Illinois courthouse turned into a trial of modernist art and architecture itself.
Interweaving personal drama and cultural history, Alex Beam presents a stylish, enthralling tapestry of a tale, illuminating the fascinating history behind one of the twentieth-century’s most beautiful and significant architectural projects.
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