Speak Modernism

Speak Modernism

Plano, Illinois, USA

Spring 2016

Preservation as Provocation Competition ACSA

The persistence of American bucolic landscape Edenic narratives as propitiated by romantic painters and authors of the 19th century as well as modern architects, city planners, and politicians of 1940s Illinois paint the natural backdrop for the modernist designs of Mies van der Rohe. This idea of Eden as America is exemplified in the works of Thomas Cole’s paintings of North America, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, and Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the national parks system. 

Scope and Intent

Graphic Context, Thesis Forming, Site Analysis, Theoretical Exploration, Writing


Blake Mitchell


Seung Ra


2 Weeks

Program Use

Photoshop, Indesign, Rhino, Revit, Illustrator

The Edenic narratives position nature as profoundly separate from anthropological influence. This dialectic of the human-environment relationship directly informs the modernism of WWII America. In an age of planes, trains and automobiles the dictatorial power of modernism claims “function rules the world”. As a significant part of the ‘all hail modernism’ campaign Chicago has secured the Farnsworth House as a member of its modern architectural menagerie.

The Farnsworth House is nestled in one of these pristine landscapes; however, it is a pure fallacy to refer to this landscape as any more natural than the Farnsworth house itself. Just as the landscape is constructed by metabolisms of the biotic realm (i.e. water, air, sunshine, nutrients) so is architecture constructed by the metabolisms of the social realm (i.e. politics, religion, history, class, ethnicity, race, age). Therefore, all landscape and buildings are no more and no less natural than the other. 

The Farnsworth House Visitor’s Center continues the modernist dictatorial strategy by aggressively imposing itself on the land. Four distinct structures dot the landscape connected by a path significantly directing the visitor’s experience towards the Farnsworth House. 


  • Structure A welcomes the visitor into a public zone that contains the gift shop (900 sf), lobby (340 sf), and restrooms (537 sf), and the private zone contains the staff offices (564 sf), staff kitchen (231 sf), and break room (334 sf), and conference room (334 sf). Additionally, Structure A contains a large storage room and the mechanical room (226 sf), providing district utilities to the site. 
  • Structure B contains the Multi-Purpose center (1234 sf). 
  • Structures C and D shelter the covered patios and public event spaces. 
  • Structure D is the last covered structure prior to visitor’s approaching the Farnsworth House and is suitable for preparing large groups for the subsequent experience. 
  • Parking contains 2 bus parking spaces, 30 spaces for daily staff parking, and 20 spaces for overflow event parking.

In order to view the Farnsworth House with any semblance of understanding, each visitor must succumb to the Edenic narrative, traveling back in time to the modern age of industrial America and learn to “speak modernism”.