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Mies' grandson backs 'hydraulic jacks' plan for Farnsworth House

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Mies van der Rohe’s grandson has backed plans for a £1.8 million system of hydraulic jacks to rescue Farnsworth House from repeated flooding

Dirk Lohan of Chicago-based studio Lohan Anderson spoke out in favour of the ambitious proposal as debate over plans to save the iconic building intensified.

Last year the owner, National Trust for Historic Preservation published three alternative options to protect the steel and glass retreat which is next to the flood-prone Fox River.

The proposals include elevating the structure in situ, relocating the dwelling to higher ground within the 25 hectare estate - which is understood to be the trust’s preferred solution - and using a hydraulic system to temporarily raise the house during flooding.

Commenting on the best way forward, Lohan told the AJ: ‘To relocate the house several hundred feet from the river onto much higher ground will certainly save it from flooding, but it will also create an entirely new contextual environment that has nothing to do with the intended relationship to the natural features of the site that Mies had in mind.

He added: ‘To move the house out of the flood plain would render its basic idea, of a house on stilts, as having no logic.’

Instead Lohan, who is on the Trust’s Technical Advisory Panel, wants an underground hydraulic lift system which would be activated ‘whenever dangerous floods were approaching’ but which would be ‘completely invisible during non-flood times’ (read his full comments here).

Over the last 20 years the single-storey Farnsworth House has been flooded three times by the river. Water levels reached almost half a metre above floor level after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Mies van der Rohe completed the 140m² weekend house in 1951 for Chicago paediatrician Edith Farnsworth.

The trust will present the options to local presevation group Landmarks Illinois for approval later this month.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • perhaps it could have inflatable pillows underneath so that it floats. Mies meets Archigram

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  • Rowan Moore is on the right track - there's a well known problem with constructing filling stations anywhere that groundwater is not far below the surface, whereby - if the new underground storage tanks aren't filled with water before a concrete ground slab is cast over them - there's the very real possibility that they'll float upwards, breaking out of the backfill.
    So you'd think that the Farnsworth house doesn't really need elaborate hydraulics in the foundations, just carefully designed closed-cell rigid foam footings just below ground with minimal separable fill above.

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  • Dirk Lohan's point about having no logic of being on stilts out of the flood plain is fundamental to the final solution. The seventh photo above reflects the logic of the design.

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  • Encased sliding columns and buoyancy bags/cork-floats fitted to the underside of the slab/cross beams should be capable of resolving this ocasional problem.

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