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Farnsworth House Flood Mitigation

Plano, IL

This iconic Mies van der Rohe house was constructed in 1951 and is now owned and managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) as a museum. The Farnsworth House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006. The structure is located on a low-lying and increasingly flood-prone site near the Fox River.

  • Photo credit: Joseph Gage / Flickr Creative Commons.
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The house’s main floor level is located only five feet above ground. In 2008, when the site was inundated by rainwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the water level reached 18 inches above this floor level.

The house’s main floor level is located only five feet above ground. In 2008, when the site was inundated by rainwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the water level reached 18 inches above this floor level.

Working with NTHP, Silman completed a feasibility study and developed three detailed options to mitigate the flooding that will continue to threaten the house and its furnishings. Some options considered – raising the house in situ or relocating the house to safer ground – would have required significant disturbances to the integrity of the house’s natural context, including the loss of all existing trees in fill areas.

The selected design involves installing a permanent system of structural steel supports and hydraulics beneath the house; this system will be used to temporarily raise and support the house during flood events. Silman first investigated the use of a simpler scissor lift, but this did not demonstrate enough lateral rigidity or stability. The hydraulics will lower the building to its original elevation once the waters recede, leaving visitors with an unaltered experience of the house in its intended site context.

This scheme also requires removing the house’s existing foundations to replace them with a new below-grade concrete slab. This slab would form the movable ceiling of a concrete pit; the house and slab would be lifted together by means of hydraulic equipment located within the pit.

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