2007’s release Fracture, starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins didn’t receive many industry accolades. Surprising, given the stellar performances and the stylish production. Reviewers complained that it should have been better than it was, or that the plot was unoriginal or predictable. No matter. To those with an interest in the built environment, the casting of Peter Tolkin’s Sherman House made the film infinitely watchable. Restrained and elegant, the house provided the perfect crime scene, complicit in the murder of its hostess.
This film pits the generations against each other. An upstart young lawyer (Gosling), against a methodical aeronautical engineer (Hopkins) charged with the murder of his wife. For the most part, generation Y comes off inadequate and ill prepared, outplayed by the more experienced party.
Hopkins is pitch perfect in his role. Delivering with a steely conviction and calculating intellect, he brings an authenticity to the material which could have been a bit cliched in someone else's hands. The Sherman house also delivers. As an extension of Hopkins character, its precise lines and considered floor planning amplifies the staged events that it's owner sets in motion. A clock-based artwork installation added to the centre of the house by the production team for the film reinforces the sense of chilling premeditation.
Paul Walker will probably be most often remembered for his association with the Fast & Furious series. His popularity grew with the franchise, as did the sophistication of each production. Over the years the cars became more high tech, stunts became more elaborate and the plot more extreme but it is the very first release, 2001’s The Fast and The Furious though, that is, for me, the most memorable. You guessed it – because it featured a fabulous house.
David Fowler’s 1963 commission for the Davis family in Beverly Hills featured in the film as headquarters for the police investigating a spate of high speed truck robberies. The building, named Ridgetop, featured a distinctive round plan, custom furniture, scalloped eaves and concrete blocks sporting an elliptical motif which appeared throughout the house on metal entry gates, glazing and partitions. Photographed by Julius Shulman and featured in Architectural Digest soon after its completion, the house was the height of 60’s sophistication and a beautiful example of Californian Mid Century Modern design. Sadly it was demolished to make way for a new housing development in the mid 2000’s.
Long missing from this discussion is a post about John Lautner’s most recognisable building – the groundbreaking, distinctive and iconic structure, The Chemosphere. Now an LA architectural landmark, the building has taken five decades to earn its status and has achieved it largely as a result of the film industry’s fascination with its futurist aesthetic. The house can be spotted in countless features on both the big and small screens and is referenced in many more - including Charlies Angels and the Iron Man series.
Perhaps the best use of the house is 1984’s Body Double starring Melanie Griffith. Certainly not looking its modernist best in the film (the house is completely refitted with gawdy 80’s décor), it is interestingly cast as an appealing residence for someone suffering from claustrophobia, a trait used to a murderer’s advantage as the plot develops. Perched on an extreme slope with 270 degree views overlooking the city of LA, the whole scenario would not quite have worked had the occupant been suffering from vertigo.
The house was purchased in the late 90’s by Benedikt Taschen, of the Taschen publishing house, who commissioned Escher GuneWardena Architecture to complete a full refurbishment to return the building to its former glory. Lucky them. They did a beautiful job.
Built speculatively by Skylab Architecture in association with local developers – a method of showcasing a fledgling practice’s work without the need for a sympathetic Client (which was possible in the boom times of the early 2000’s) – the Hoke Family purchased the house not long after completion and were approached by the film production team after the house featured in an architectural publication. The decision to proceed is possibly something they have come to regret considering the fanatical nature of Twilight fans.
Whether you are a fan of the series or have reservations about telling teenagers that love is like the feeling of wanting to devour someone (surely teenage girls have enough unhealthy food associations?) this building is a standout.
The house is bright and spacious with large panel windows opening to the trees, much like the house described in the original book. A perfect choice for the modern vampire coven wanting a change from the traditional foreboding castle. However the book actually casts the house as a predominantly white, turn of the (last) century mansion with a converted rear façade of glass looking out onto the forest. In fact, the Hoke House uses a mix of timber cladding, glass and cast concrete - a much warmer palette better suited for film yet retaining the concept of a unconventional contemporary space for this group of ‘vegetarian’ vampires. We are meant to like the family and approve of the choices they have made (they fill their lives with music, art & good design rather than succumb to their less sophisticated desires) and the use of natural materials throughout the house emphasizes the Cullen’s connection with nature and gives them another layer of humanity, something the described pure white interior scheme would have struggled to do.
Digital enhancement aged the newly planted landscape design in order to fit the required lush forest location as well as deleting any indication of neighboring buildings to create more isolation. The characteristic cast insitu columns supporting the house are not visible in the film however they are an important compositional element of the design. Not only striking at ground level but they also allow the rooms above to cantilever into the adjacent tree canopy giving the effect of intimacy with the forest and providing privacy for the occupants.
To say this film is about a dispute between neighbours would be to undersell it completely. When one of the houses in question is Le Corbusier's Casa Curutchet and the two parties represent polar ends of the social spectrum – a pretentious, supercilious businessman and his crude, slightly menacing neighbour, this Argentinian film takes the premise to a whole other level.
Interestingly the house plays itself - a famous building that designers make pilgrimage to see - but has it occupied by a successful furniture designer Leonardo (the businessman, played by Rafael Spregelburd) and his family, who on the surface only just tolerate the interest but privately quite enjoy the notoriety. Until, of course, the dispute with the neighbouring Victor (Daniel Aráoz) escalates and the constant scrutiny becomes oppressive. As the story develops however, more is revealed of each character and we come to question who is in the wrong and wonder at how two people can miscommunicate so effectively.
We get to see a good deal of the house, particularly the entrance ramps and first storey terrace, which provides an excellent study of the three dimensionality, the framing of external spaces and the interlocking volumes, for which the house is renown. Even if you are unfamiliar with the building, the house is clearly the work of a design pioneer and this authentic genius underscores Lenardos deficiencies as the film progresses - his unfounded arrogance, his ineffectuality and eventually his cowardice is contrasted against Victor's up front familiarity, and in the end, reliability.