No self respecting X-Gener would fail to recognize this house as that of Cameron Frye, best friend of Ferris Bueller and reluctant participant in his memorable Day Off. Built for Ben and Frances Rose, textile designers whose thriving business provided iconic prints to architectural showrooms & design publications throughout the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, the house is a firm disciple of the modernist style – an elegant steel frame with modular panels of glass and solid creating a barely present built envelope.
The commissioned architect James Speyer, a former student of Mies Van der Roh, must have been delighted to be blessed with a Client so informed about contemporary design that they were readily prepared to embrace the lifestyle it imposed. He took the opportunity to thoroughly explore ideas of structural refinement and planning simplicity. couple continued to be patrons of the arts and in 1974 when it came time to build accommodation for their impressive auto collection, they built a pavilion which not only displayed the cars but was also suitable as an exhibition space where they could host events to showcase local artists. To ensure the pavilion matched the architectural language of the house, they engaged Speyers protégée, David Haid to design and oversee the work. The result was a garage pavilion with high end specifications – slick modernist construction detailing, exhibition quality lighting and a dramatic backdrop, care of an impressive cantilever over the ravine.
It is this pavilion which features prominently in the 1986 film starring Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck as best friends Ferris and Cameron. Presented as the garage of Camerons family home, the quality of the space is intended to comment on his family’s values (in particular his father’s values, as owner of the 1961 Ferrari 250GT California housed in the garage). He so values material possessions that he provides lavish accommodation for his car and yet leaves his son largely to his own devices. Ferris says “a man with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile”.
Although we don’t see much of the house itself Ferris describes it as like a museum and complains about not being allowed to touch anything. This is a classic use of modern architecture in film. Intended to get to the essence of a building using pared back clean lines, the modernist approach actually works in counter point. On film the simplification looks stark and uninviting and suggests the inhabitants have no attachment to things or memories and no sense of nostalgia - we immediately suspect them of being heartless and disengaged. We feel no pity when Camerons fathers’ beloved Ferrari is sent crashing through the glass wall and into the ravine.