Who was Edith Farnsworth, and why did she want to build this house?
She was a poet, she was a brilliant researcher, as well as a physician treating kidney disease. By 1945, she was exhausted [overworked by a wartime doctor's shortage], so she wanted a little country house that she could go to on weekends and get away from the hospital. She said meeting [Mies] was like meeting a force of nature. She was thrilled that he would take on this little country house for her.
Did Mies see an opportunity here as well?
It was his dream house, in a sense. He was inventing a new architecture in that house. If you look at the progression of his architecture from the Tugendhat House to the Barcelona Pavilion to the Farnsworth House, he's getting the structure outside and he's figuring out how to do it—how to have a universal space, a one clear span that later he uses for Crown Hall. He had the opportunity to build this gem of a house, and he grabbed it.
There are four characters in the play, and one is Philip Johnson. Is there tension between Mies and Johnson? [Johnson] wanted to be first, so he saw what Mies was doing and built his own glass house before Mies even started to dig the foundations. But when [Johnson says in the play], “I can see on this model you cantilevered both ends,” and Mies says, “Oh, so Harvard taught you what is a cantilever,” it gets a laugh every time. Because it's a little dig, a little humor, and a little tension.
What has been the reaction toThe Glass House?
Dirk Lohan [Mies' architect grandson] sat in front of me at one of the early readings, and I was really nervous. I say, “I hope you enjoy it.” He says, “If I don't, I'm going to walk out.” I'm nervous the whole time to see if he walks out. And he stays. After it was over, he turned around to me and said, “Did this really happen?” “Did that really happen?” He was really taken with it.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new play with music about architect/planner Daniel Burnham, the 1909 Plan of Chicago, and the 1893 World's Fair.