The Farnsworth House on Sept. 14. Because Landmarks Illinois had advanced notice of potential flooding, staff were able to take preventative measures to save furniture.
The Farnsworth House on Sept. 14. Because Landmarks Illinois had advanced notice of potential flooding, staff were able to take preventative measures to save furniture.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House was designed with Plano, Ill.'s, Fox River in mind—the floor slab is suspended 5 feet above ground level to allow occasional floodwaters to pass beneath—but since its completion in 1951, it has nonetheless suffered Mother Nature's indignities a half dozen times, most recently last month. Record rainfall on Sept. 13 and 14 raised the river more than 14 feet above its normal level, filling the house with 15 inches of water. "We were very fortunate," says James Peters, president of Landmarks Illinois, which manages the site, owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Unlike in 1996, when the swollen river smashed the glass windows, last month's flooding caused no structural damage. But enough harm was done that the house will probably be closed for the rest of 2008. The timing couldn't have been worse, says Peters: Autumn is prime tourist season for the house museum, and no visitors for several months means up to $70,000 in lost revenue.

Over the years, says Peters, Landmarks Illinois has received many proposals on how to protect the modernist icon, including a high wall around the house and hydraulic pistons to lift the structure higher. "So far," he notes, "none of them are practical." The September flooding "will cause us to revisit those ideas," he adds. "We've talked about creating a website to showcase all the proposals. We don't want people to think we haven't been thinking about this."

Follow repair progress on the Farnsworth House at landmarksillinois.blogspot.com, written by site manager Whitney French.