written by:
July 13, 2010

Last month I was lucky enough to catch a viewing of The Glass House, a wonderful play that told the story of both Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson's glass houses. I caught up with the play's author, June Finfer, and asked her about her research, the two men, and which house is her favorite. The play will show again this year (when and where have yet to be announced).

The Farnsworth House, built in 1951 in Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe.
The Farnsworth House, built in 1951 in Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe.
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Harris and David with Model

What prompted you to write The Glass House?
I had produced a documentary about the Farnsworth House and was intrigued by the intrigue. Why did it take five years to start construction? Why did Mies and Edith Farnsworth sue each other afterwards?
What was the most surprising thing you found out about Mies during your research?
I discovered that his English was more than iconic—"Less is More"—it was sometimes very humorous—"I enjoy my salad like a cow in the Alps."
And of Johnson?
I concluded that Philip Johnson wanted to be accepted by Mies as an architect and friend, but was constantly disappointed.
Which of the two houses is your favorite?
The Farnsworth House.

The Farnsworth House, built in 1951 in Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe.
The Farnsworth House, built in 1951 in Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe.

Your play focuses on human drama and architecture history in equal measure. Did you intentionally balance the two?
I am interested in how architecture affects people, and how architects (or artists) achieve originality. And by what it costs them.
How did you compile your research?
I interviewed people who knew Mies and Philip, read biographies, visited their homes, dived into archives in museums.
Who gave you the most insight into the two men?
Their biographer, Franz Schulze.
Did you discover something about the houses' design during your research that surprised you?
I discovered how different they were from each other.
Where will the play show next?
Don't know. Hopefully in a larger venue for a longer run.
Were you nervous about painting these two icons as human, complete with flaws, as they're regarded so highly?
At some of the readings before the production, I was sure people would be outraged, but everyone, including Mies's grandsons, seem to accept my interpretation without any rancor. They both said he smiled more, though. You can't write a play about icons, only about human beings with human flaws.

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