The true story of the intimate relationship that gave birth to the Farnsworth House, a masterpiece of twentieth-century architecture—and disintegrated into a bitter feud over love, money, gender, and the very nature of art.
Beam’s thorough and thoughtful account is both a knowing biography of an object — the house — and of its two principals, the well-documented Mies and the widely overlooked Farnsworth. Fortunately for Beam’s purposes, Farnsworth left an unpublished memoir. But Beam concludes that Farnsworth 'isn’t always a reliable narrator' ... The Mies biographer Franz Schulze, who died last year, wrote that 'it is simplistic to say that Farnsworth wanted the house and Mies, and Mies wanted the house and the next client.' Beam makes clear that their relationship was complicated. But sometimes, the simplistic explanation actually makes the most sense.
Beam goes after his subject like an archeologist, digging deep for the names of the companies that supplied the Farnsworth House's building materials and exhuming interview subjects who knew the story's principals. He sees the comedy within the high drama, the cleverness behind the jabs ... spotlights a timeless concern: whether the artist owes anything beyond the work itself. But it's also about something entirely mundane: how even a creative genius and an esteemed doctor are no better than the rest of us at mastering basic communications skills.
Alex Beam offers a readable, concise account of the disputatious construction of the Farnsworth House ... Beam’s book calls to mind Franklin Toker’s fine 2003 cultural history, Fallingwater Rising, on Wright, Pittsburgh department store magnate E.J. Kaufmann, and the creation of that domestic masterpiece ... Beam, steeped in the record, is fair-minded in recreating this complicated battle ... But Beam’s dedication, 'To Edith,' seems to indicate where his sympathies lie.