The Vanishing Porch in Perspective is an experiment in digital storytelling conceived, built, and maintained by Sarah M. Dreller, PhD. It accompanies “Curtained Walls: Architectural Photography, the Farnsworth House, and the Opaque Discourse of Transparency,” a peer-reviewed academic article that was written by Sarah and published in ARRIS in 2015.
As the article’s title suggests, “Curtained Walls” focuses mostly on how the Farnsworth House’s silk curtains have been portrayed in photographs over the years and what that tells us about modern architecture’s passion for transparency. The building’s semi-opaque screened porch plays a crucial role in the article’s narrative as a contrasting design element, but Sarah was never quite able to give it as much attention as she wanted. Scholars encounter this kind of problem all the time; there are always more stories than time or page-count allow.
But Sarah remained invested in the screened porch as an important facet of the house’s history from the perspective of the woman who commissioned an overtly modern work of architecture and then used the building for 20 years. When the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gained strength in late 2017, Sarah decided it was time to create some kind of open access addendum to her scholarly contribution about the Farnsworth House—one that positioned the screened porch at the center of the story for everyone to consider and appreciate.
About the design of this site
All of Sarah’s key site design aesthetic decisions relate in some way to the history of the Farnsworth House or Sarah’s first-hand experience of the building itself.
WordPress theme: Sarah chose Portfolio partly because its elegant minimalism echoes the Farnsworth House’s design and partly because this particular theme offered the most screen width for the timeline frame. Other minimalist themes were too spare for an online project about a luxurious vacation home or would not allow Sarah to expand the timeline frame wide enough to tell the porch’s story properly.
Timeline: Sarah used an open-source tool called TimelineJS to build the interactive timeline. TimelineJS was developed by Northwestern University’s knightlab with journalists as the intended audience. Sarah was intrigued by the challenge/opportunity TimelineJS presented to tell a more inclusive story about the screened porch now using a tool created for a group of professionals that contributed to marginalizing Farnsworth originally. Check back soon for a more complete explanation of why Sarah thought an interactive timeline was a good choice to serve as an online companion for “Curtained Walls.”
Color palette: The site’s palette of dark gray and white corresponds to Sarah’s memory of her first visit to the Farnsworth House. She admits that there were probably other colors within view that day—the greens of the surrounding grass and trees, the browns of the interior woodwork, and so on. But the day is embedded in her imagination as a monochromatic space-time experience informed by her archival research with Hedrich Blessing’s black-and-white photographs. The dark gray is Gray25, color hex code #404040. The white is color hex code is #ffffff.
Fonts: The header font is Abril Fatface, by Veronika Burian and José Scaglione of Type Together. The paragraph font is Droid Sans, from Google Android. This particular combination of fonts was a TimelineJS tool option and it struck her as especially expressive of the building’s visual juxtaposition between thick structure and thin cladding/infill. Since the Abril Fatface alludes to the steel columns, Sarah was especially careful to ensure that all the most important headers and titles would be appear as white against a dark gray background. She also liked the newsface quality of Abril Fatface for the way it alludes to the public speculation about the nature of Mies and Farnsworth’s relationship. Sarah used Typekit embed codes and wrote custom CSS to override the Portfolio theme’s original typefaces to ensure consistency across the timeline and the entire site.
Want to listen to Sarah discuss this and other online projects she’s been working on? Stream this 11-minute podcast she produced for Platypus, the Humanities Commons team’s blog.
Sarah is an independent historian of art and architecture and a freelance editor. Her historical research has centered primarily on the connections between architecture and modernity since the industrial and scientific revolutions of the late-18th century. As an editor, her focus is on academic and museum publications in the humanities.
Read more about Sarah’s background, publications, and projects on her Humanities Commons profile page.
Follow Sarah on Twitter (@SMDreller) for project updates, news about modern art & architecture, and commentary on how the humanities can be relevant to contemporary life.
Sarah is deeply grateful to her husband for actively encouraging her to create the Vanishing Porch in Perspective and for all the support he has offered on the entire “Curtained Walls” project over the years.
She would also like to thank the colleagues who helped make this site better with their thoughtful visitor feedback and Humanities Commons for providing the digital tools and online hosting that enable public scholarship like this.
[Note: If you’re not interested in this timeline’s interactive features or if you want larger images, click here to see the same information presented as a static page.]
“Award $14,467 to Architect of Glass House.” Chicago Daily Tribune. (June 9, 1953): 20.
“Charges Famed Architect with Fraud, Deceit.” Chicago Daily Tribune (October 30, 1951): A5.
Dreller, Sarah M. “Curtained Walls: Architectural Photography, the Farnsworth House, and the Opaque Discourse of Transparency.” ARRIS: The Journal of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians 26 (2015): 22-39.
Dunlap, David. “House Proud: Personal Visions.” The New York Times (June 24, 1999).
Fitch, James Marston. “Mies van der Rohe and the Platonic Verities,” in Four Great Makers of Modern Architecture: Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Wright; The Verbatim Record of a Symposium Held at the School of Architecture, Columbia University, March-May, 1961. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970. This is an unabridged republication of the first edition, published by Columbia University in 1963.
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Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958.
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“Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Farnsworth house in Fox River, Ill.” Architectural Forum 95:4 (October 1951): 156-161.
Summers, Gene. Interview by Pauline A. Saliga, 7-8 October 1987, compiled c.1993 under the auspices of the Chicago Architects Oral History Project. Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.
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