"Mies van der Rohe's 1951 Farnsworth House, one of modern domestic architecture's most famous examples, is an aesthetic culmination of simplicity, transparency and integration with its unique landscape. Despite its original design in compliance with projected 100-year floods, in recent years the Farnsworth House has become increasingly vulnerable to floodwater damage from the adjacent Fox River. To accommodate and work in synchrony with this new environmental norm, 'PHIBIOUS FARNSWORTH introduces an amphibious foundation system to raise and float the edifice in extreme flooding scenarios, and then lower it to its initial elevation as water recedes. This passive strategy combines appropriate, resilient technologies with a sensitivity to preserving this valuable cultural asset and its original aesthetic.
Our strategy replaces the house's conventional static concrete pylons with sleeves that accommodate sliding vertical guidance posts. These posts, which allow the house to rise and fall while restricting its lateral movement, are extensions of the house's existing wide-flange columns, reaching fifteen feet below the ground surface. A steel subframe installed just below surface-level supports a matrix of 'buoyancy blocks' (similar to dock floats). When flooding occurs, the buoyancy blocks lift the house, with the subframe and columns transferring the forces. Using existing self-sealing breakaway technology, sewage and wastewater lines detach from the ascending structure; water and electrical supplies utilize long, coiled 'umbilical' lines.
'Floating slabs' are indeed already part of the Farnsworth House's tectonic vocabulary, and the fully below-grade retrofit ensures that its appearance remains unaltered. 'PHIBIOUS FARNSWORTH retains all of the house's essential characteristics, and remains largely invisible and latent until activated by the presence of floodwater. Recognizing the urgent need for flood mitigation intervention, the project offers an innovative, unobtrusive update consistent with the house's minimal aesthetic, and an effective alternative to the costly and time-consuming restorations consequent to each severe flood."