Virtual Event: Alex Beam

presenting

Broken Glass:
Mies Van Der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modernist Masterpiece

in conversation with WITOLD RYBCZYNSKI

Date

Apr
2
Thursday
April 2, 2020
7:00 PM

Location

Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.

Tickets

This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes ALEX BEAM—Boston Globe columnist and author of Gracefully Insane and A Good Idea at the Time—for a discussion of his latest bookBroken Glass: Mies Van Der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modernist Masterpiece. He will be joined in conversation by WITOLD RYBCYNSKI, Emeritus Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. His latest book, Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City, is available for purchase here. This event is co-sponsored by Mass Humanities.

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About Broken Glass

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.

Praise for Broken Glass

“An amazing story, brilliantly told . . . Alex Beam quickens your interest in every detail. His sensitive insights into architecture are matched by his feeling for psychology and for all the hilarious, petty, surprising minutiae of human relationships.” —Sebastian Smee, Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic and author of The Art of Rivalry

“Alex Beam begins with a simple foundation—a man, a woman, and a house—out of which he constructs a nuanced biography of one of the twentieth century’s most fascinating architects, a portrait of his brilliant and pioneering patron, and a dramatic tale of the impassioned battle over a work of art that consumed them both. Broken Glass is compelling from the first page as it chronicles, in delicious and sometimes hilarious detail, the mere mortals behind a Modern masterpiece.” —Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women

“Just when we thought everything had been said . . . an impressively comprehensive and moving account of the flawed architect-client relationship (and probably more) that lead to the greatest architectural masterpiece of the twentieth century.” —Reinier de Graaf, architect and author of Four Walls and a Roof

Alex Beam
Alex Beam

Alex Beam

Alex Beam has been a columnist for The Boston Globe since 1987. He previously served as the Moscow bureau chief for Business Week. He is the author of three works of nonfiction: American Crucifixion, Gracefully Insane, and A Great Idea at the Time; the latter two were New York Times Notable Books. Beam has also written for The Atlantic, Slate, and Forbes/FYI. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Photo Credit: Doc Glidewell

Witold Rybczynski
Witold Rybczynski

Witold Rybczynski

Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is Emeritus Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written for the Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and the New York Times, and has been architecture critic for Saturday Night, Wigwag, and Slate. From 2004 to 2012 he served on the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts.

Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
Co-Sponsored by Mass Humanities

Mass Humanities

Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at masshumanities.org.

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