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Architecture, Affairs and Cost Overruns—Jeff Bridges to Star as Mies in Farnsworth House Story

Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal to co-star in biopic drama piece on the tumultuous relationship that brought the German architect one of his most famous masterwork commissions.


Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece, the Farnsworth House, will get center stage attention in an upcoming Hollywood film starring Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges and Academy Award-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. These two had already proven a stunning pair when they co-starred in the film Crazy Heart, for which Bridges won an Oscar.

Drama Over Farnsworth House

Bridges will play famed German architect Mies van der Rohe while Gyllenhaal will reunite with Bridges as Chicago nephrologist Dr. Edith Farnsworth.

The Farnsworth House, now an architectural museum, is considered a type of “child” between the architect and his doctor client, the net result of a turbulent relationship that ended in dual lawsuits between client and architect.

The Bridges-Gyllenhaal film is unconfirmed by any other sources, but Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman reported the project which has since been widely reported now by many architecture outlets.

01 - The Farnsworth House by architect Mies van der Rohe. (image: cc by-SA 2.0, wikipedia commons)

01 – The Farnsworth House by architect Mies van der Rohe. (image: cc by-SA 2.0, Wikipedia Commons)

Mies and Farnsworth are widely reported to have had at least a minor romance, according to Mies’ 1980 biographer based on shared information by Farnsworth’s sister. While it is hard to imagine a movie like this one without the affair, there is no shortage of dramatic material in the cost-overrun project itself—the alleged basis for disappointment and lawsuit.

Budget Overrun Leads to Anger

Mies was responsible for both design and construction, with an estimated and approved budget of $58,400.USD. The overrun was $15,600 and due to spiked commodity costs related to the Korean War. In the end, the project’s $70,000 total cost for a 1,500 SF (mostly) weekend house would be, according to Wikipedia, $648,000 in 2012 dollars. (or $432 /sf. in today’s cost—actually quite normative for custom residential construction)

And Then Use and Happiness, Perhaps?

While I won’t spoil the outcome of the dual lawsuits and Mies van der Rohe and Dr. Farnsworth’s legal battle, the result of the suit on their relationship was that the two never spoke to each ever again. And perhaps for a good reason for Mies, whose reputation suffered irreparable damage.

02 - Another view of the Farnsworth House. Mies taking a cigarette break on the steps with workman. (image: via Tweedland : )

02 – Another view of the Farnsworth House. Mies taking a cigarette break on the steps with workmen. (image: via Tweedland )

Dr. Farnsworth continued to use the house as her weekend retreat for the next 21 years and often hosted architectural notables. The house is now listed on the National Register and designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior.

A major Hollywood film focused on this story would undoubtedly bring attention and focus on several related fronts well concerned for here at Architosh. Both modern architecture, Mies, the actual Farnsworth House, and the role of architects in society will all gain exposure and discussion from this film project if it reaches fruition.

Let’s hope it does.

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