On September 14, 2008, rain poured down on the Fox River valley in Plano, IL, causing the river to spill its banks and flood Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. The flood damaged the house and the furniture within, specifically a large wardrobe that was added to the house at the request of Edith Farnsworth. Unlike the other, smaller furniture in the house, the 12’ x 6’ x 2’ wardrobe is too large to be removed from the house in case of another flood. With the existing visitor center not able to accommodate this large piece of furniture, Farnsworth House sought the help of Professor Frank Flury, design-build professor at Mies’ own Illinois Institute of Technology. Professor Flury has led many successful design-build studios at IIT including the AIA award winning Field Chapel in Boedigheim, Germany. He presented the project to his students and over the course of two semesters the team designed an adaptable exhibition space to solve Farnsworth House’s needs of displaying the wardrobe and other exhibitions.
Early concepts of the design were rectilinear and simple, drawing comparison to Farnsworth House. After many iterations and critiques from their professor and advice from practicing architects and engineers, the team decided it would be more appropriate to design in the local vernacular, something more similar to the farm buildings that compose the native architecture. The studio designed a contemporary round barn with a new gently sloping path circling the “Barnsworth” on its way to the Farnsworth House. The design is simple and compact, the round floor plan creating a natural exhibition space. The interior walls are segmented while the exterior walls feature vertical board and batten siding to create a continuous curve. The walls are free from openings providing a place to display objects while a simple and elegant lantern sits atop the space to allow the penetration of natural light.