Monday, March 16, 2020

Alex Beam's "Broken Glass"

Alex Beam has been a columnist for The Boston Globe since 1987. He previously served as the Moscow bureau chief for Business Week. His nonfiction books include American Crucifixion, Gracefully Insane, A Great Idea at the Time, and The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship.

Beam applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modernist Masterpiece, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes in some detail Mies van der Rohe's precise and innovative attention to detail in designing and building the Farnsworth House.

The test works! There are three characters in Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, his client, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, and the elegant, modernist Farnsworth House itself. Page 99 tells us quite a bit about Mies's obsession with materials, and his meticulous attention to detail. The page describes the granular obsession with quality workmanship that Mies inherited from his stonemason father, who plied his trade in the shadow of the magnificent, medieval cathedral in Aachen. Local lore had it that if anyone questioned why the masons worked so hard on small details, invisible to the naked eye atop the cathedral's Gothic spires, they answered: "God can see them." Page 99 shows Mies fulfilling this inheritance.

Page 99 occurs in Chapter Four, the only purely "architectural" chapter in the book. The chapter title comes from an observation in Edith Farnsworth's diary. She often visited Mies's office while the "boys" -- his young associates -- clustered around their drawing boards, parsing out details of her soon to be famous home. "In the big drafting room, the boys sat their tables, transfigured," she wrote, 'This is the most important house in the world,' they crowed."

It turned out to be a very important house indeed.
Visit Alex Beam's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue