July 21, 2017

Farnsworth House Becomes a Model Home (Literally)

Marcus Bree of Little Building Co has been designing and building models of architectural structures since 2008. After the launch of his successful Australian Series, which depicted uniquely Australian architectural forms, Bree has begun work on his new Architects Series. So far, he has completed model kits of two buildings—the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Sydney’s National Opera House.

Next on the list is famous 20th-century architect Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, constructed in 1951 and now a National Trust Historic Site. In collaboration with the Farnsworth House, Bree is using Kickstarter to help get his newest iteration of model kits off the ground. We checked in with Bree, who lives in Australia, to learn more about his passion for making pint-sized buildings.

Front elevation view of the Farnsworth House model.

photo by: Marcus Bree

The model kit was crafted at a scale of 1:150 and is made from timber and acrylic.

An exterior shot of the Farnsworth House.

photo by: David Wilson/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

Farnsworth House was constructed by architect Mies van der Rohe in 1951.

What inspired you to start creating these architectural models?

I think buying a house was probably the catalyst. I have had a long-time interest in buildings, but I’d never owned one. Spending time working out how my house was built got me thinking I could make them on a smaller scale.

How does your actual home relate to the models you build?

My house is built from timber, and you can pull it apart. It’s also about 80 years old, and you can see where cabinets and doors used to be, where the bathroom used to be, and where people put things who used to live there from where holes in the floor are.

Low left front view of the Farnsworth House model.

photo by: Marcus Bree

You can purchase a model kit of Farnsworth House through Little Building Co's Kickstarter.

Do you want to share any stories about how your customers impacted your work?

When I was making the Opera House, [a lot of] people shared their stories [about their experiences with it]. One couple went on their honeymoon to the Opera House, and he gave his wife a kit as an anniversary present. Now, it sits on their dresser.

Sometimes, [customers and I] will email a couple of times a year. One man lives in the Isle of Wight, in England. He’s in his 70s and has Parkinson’s [disease], so I think the kits are a bit of a [healthy] challenge for him. And he sends me books, artwork, and all kinds of things in return.

Farnsworth House is quite different from the other models in your Architects Series (the Sydney Opera House and the Guggenheim Museum). Why did you choose a lesser-known subject this time?

In my mind, the Farnsworth House is no different to my other models. It has always stood out to me as an architectural icon, as are the Opera House and the Guggenheim Museum. I guess it gets less attention being a domestic building—not housing an institution. None the less, it is still as important as the others.

What makes the Farnsworth House as important as other architectural icons?

Going through college and in history of art classes, we always talked about Mies [van der Rohe, the home’s architect]. He was sort of drummed into us. And just the simplicity of it [makes the house significant]. I think it’s just a simple structure, and a beautiful building.

Do any details stand out to you in the Farnsworth House? What do you find inspiring about this place?

I like the use of the steel and the way it’s been assembled—it just looks crisp and clean. I’ve never visited the site, but I can imagine the views to the river are special. When you look on the web, there are not many shots of the house in its surroundings, which I find surprising as the site seems to me to be as important.

Do you think it’s easier to build a model of a building like the Farnsworth House because it’s so cleanly designed?

I guess it was more difficult, because you can’t hide and disguise things. [Normally], it’s like being a magician, like a trick where you can put the structures away. But with this model, I couldn’t hide things like the supports. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the model before I built it. When you’re thinking about the design [of the buildings], you can solve problems subconsciously.

Front left view of the Farnsworth House model.

photo by: Marcus Bree

Bree included a tree in his model to represent the balance between modern architecture and the natural world.

You can support Marcus Bree’s project on his Kickstarter—and help support the National Trust as well! We will receive a percentage of sales once the kits go into production. Model kits come with add-ons including a clear acrylic case, laser-engraved thank you card, constructed storage box, and more. Thanks for helping us save places.

Carson Bear is an Editorial Coordinator at the National Trust. She’s passionate about combining popular culture with historic places, and loves her 200-year-old childhood farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

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