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Floodwaters Threaten Famous American Home



The Farnsworth House in the Midwestern state of Illinois is one of the most famous homes in America. Thousands of people visit the house every year. It stands near the river that inspired its design. Now that very placement is threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.

The Farnsworth house is a one-room steel and glass structure in rural Plano, Illinois. The Fox River flows next to the home.

Edith Farnsworth was a doctor in the city of Chicago. She had the house built as a place where she could escape her work and the tensions of city life.

Maurice Parrish is the chief of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He says Edith Farnsworth asked a well-known architect to design plans for the house in 1945. That architect was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The design started a trend.

"This is the house that made modernism popular in the United States and around the world."

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe designed the house knowing it would be built on a flood area.

"He elevated the house five feet three inches (1.6 meters) above the ground, which, according to his research, would make it at least a foot (30 centimeters) higher than the highest recorded flood level up until that time."

But even as it was being built in the early 1950s, floodwaters rose higher than expected. Since then, floodwaters have entered the house many times, causing extensive damage.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation now manages the property. Maurice Parrish says they must do something. One idea is to move the house.

"Unfortunately there is no perfect solution."

Dirk Lohan is an architect in Chicago and a fan of the Farnsworth House. To him, it is more than a trend-setting design. Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe was his grandfather and inspired Mr. Lohan’s own career.

"If he had been his own client, he would have designed the house exactly the way it is."

Mr. Lohan does not want the house to be moved. He favors the use of a lift that could raise the home when the waters rise.

"That that house was designed for that location. Why would we have to move it if we have the technical ability to protect it in that location?"

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the non-profit group Landmark Illinois are investigating possible solutions. They will announce later this year where visitors can see the house in the future.

I’m Marsha James.

Kane Farabaugh reported this story from Plano, Illinois. Marsha James adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

inspire v. to make (someone) want to do something: to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create

landmark n. an object or structure on land that is easy to see and recognize

architect n. a person who designs buildings

elevate – v. to lift (something) up

manage – v. to have control of (something, such as a business or department)

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