Attempts at Breaking Into a Glass House
Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House uses the theme of technologies of transparency to examine an untold architectural history. Using the all-glass Mies van der Rohe designed Farnsworth House as a trope through which to examine transparency, this exhibition features three bodies of work.


Laurence Sarrazin and Nora Wendl, A Model for Joining Glass and Steel: Eight Perverse Architectural Details, 2014, dimensions variable, glass, steel (detail).

Taking a central location in this exhibition is a series of glass and steel architectural details designed by Laurence Sarrazin and Nora Wendl in collaboration. Models for Joining Glass and Steel: Seven Perverse Architectural Details plays upon the ubiquitous Miesian detail, in which glass and steel maintain an austere relationship, sliding past each other in close but formal contact. In contrast, the glass and steel details designed by Sarrazin and Wendl for this exhibition exhibit intimacy and near-human corporeality—glass in all its material potential. Numbered 0, 1, 2, 3….the sequence suggests a biological relationship between the glass and the steel, in which the glass—which begins autonomous from the steel I-beam—eventually subsumes it.


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In this installation, we wanted to reveal the true nature of glass as an architectural material—unknowable, un-ideal, ever-shifting. We decided to revisit a canonical work of architecture in which the ideal nature of glass is paramount to the design concept: the all-glass Farnsworth House (Mies van der Rohe, Plano, Illinois, 1951). In this house, Mies intended to let the outside in, to build a house with little separating the interior world of the house from the exterior world beyond. What resulted was a world of illusions and traces, as described by inhabitant Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who could see herself reflected in the glass, who could hear birds flying into the glass at all hours of the day, and who often discovered the fingerprints of visitors who would peek in while she was away.

In this work, a partial recreation of the south face of the Farnsworth House, we took a contrarian position. Rather than aligning the glass against the face of each 8-inch wideflange steel column, we nestled it in the interstitial space between flanges and webs. Instead of working with panes, we blew glass, confronting its corporeality. We had seconds to deform each glass bubble by one physical force—a pull, a push, a squeeze, a fold was applied to each before cooling. The outcome reveals the truer nature of glass—undomesticated, unsettled, searching for equilibrium.

Glass as it is never seen.

This is our dream of the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, in their ideal state, many human lifetimes later than ours.

“We were both really inspired by the idea that the details of a building are its DNA,” says Wendl of the glass and steel collaboration with Sarrazin. “Laurence and I were inspired by this relationship between glass and the steel I beam: in the house, they sail by each other, adjacent and abutting but not engaged.” Sarrazin brought years of experience in experimentation of glass to the project.
Sarrazin received her BFA in Product Design from Parsons, The New School for Design before attending Columbia University for her Masters in Architecture. Sarrazin is currently working on retail environment design for Core77 and Hand-Eye Supply.


Nora Wendl, Glass House (Kitchen), 2013, 36 in x 24 in, C-print

These glass works are joined by two other bodies of work that draw directly from Edith Farnsworth's archive--a body of photographs, and a series of poems by Wendl. Within the photographs are projected historical photographs of the Farnsworth House that have never before been published, as they offer a striking contrast to the architect’s suggestions for inhabitation of a glass house—which would include furniture of his own design, which Farnsworth rejected. Commissioned by Dr. Farnsworth in 1952, they have been held in a largely unknown archive in Chicago for forty years and show her strange inhabitation of the modern house—heavy furniture, mattress on the floor, overflowing ashtrays. Within these photographs, we also see a contemporary woman (the historian, perhaps) attempting to occupy the Farnsworth House, sixty years in the past. Digitized and projected at a large scale into a small studio, Wendl (acting as an historian) attempts to inhabit the scene—slipping into the virtual, light-thin image of the house—attempting to break into the glass house sixty years later, a futile endeavor that the camera records.

A very quiet history of the Farnsworth House is that its inhabitant, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, used her time at the house to write poetry. In this exhibition, poems drawn from Farnsworth’s own archive conceptually close the loop of image, word and artifact that creates architecture. Here, the architectural lines of Glass Docs work to carve a new poem out of the existing poem, revealing in Farnsworth’s poems and her poetry translations the stark truth of the phenomenon of living under glass.


Nora Wendl, Glass Docs, 2014. Dimensions variable. Collection of original hand-drawing on Xeroxed archival material (detail).