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March 4, 2012

One of famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s most iconic works, the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, suffered damage in 2008 from the remnants of Hurricane Ike. The rainstorm caused nearby Fox River to spill its banks and flood the modern masterpiece. In their new “Barnsworth” project, several architecture students from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) aim to build a separate exhibition structure to safely house the residence's historic pieces of furniture, which might meet their demise if another flood occurs. To fund the project, the IIT students are taking it to the public via Kickstarter, aiming to raise $10,000 by March 11th, 2012.

During the 2008 flood, water levels reached 18 inches above the floor, which is built atop five-foot-tall risers, damaging much of the furniture. In the event of a future flood, most furniture is small enough to be lifted out of harm’s way; however, a teak wardrobe measuring 12' x 6’x 2’ is too large to be removed from the house during a flood.

Farnsworth House Director Whitney French sought the help of one of IIT’s professors, Frank Flury. She wished to have a space to display the wardrobe and hold exhibitions about the Farnsworth property.

Professor Flury and a few students in his design build studio took on the project. They initially started with modern, rectilinear, “Miesian” designs that drew direct inspiration from the Farnsworth House. However, they decided to match the local rural vernacular instead because of the exhibition center’s placement adjacent to the visitor center, a farmhouse-like building. Matthew Munoz, a fifth year architecture student, explained the design decision: “you can't compete with the Farnsworth House; it is already modernism in its simplest form [and] anything on that site drawing comparison from it just wouldn't be as good.”

The current design of the center came one day when the professor was brainstorming in his office with two students, Will Ernst, a fifth year architecture student, and Munoz. While flipping through pages of a book about American barns, a page with a unique idea caught Flury’s eye, “Why don’t we do a round barn?” he asked. At first, Ernst and Munoz were reluctant to the idea of a round barn on the site of the boxy Farnsworth house, but they eventually designed an efficient modular piece that can be reassembled on site with segmented walls on the inside and wood siding on the exterior placed strategically so that it appears to be perfectly round.

The exhibition center will be situated further up the bank of the Fox River, above the current 100-year floodplain.

Help preserve these one-of-a-kind works by donating to the project by March 11th, 2012. For more information on this contemporary round barn and other IIT works, or to help this project come to fruition, visit IIT's Kickstarter page.

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