What links Mies van der Rohe to Ferris Bueller?

How director and Chicago native John Hughes sought out a Mies protegé's building for his 1986 film
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The Beech St home built by Mies protégés A. James Speyer and David Haid, as featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The Beech St home built by Mies protégés A. James Speyer and David Haid, as featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

When, in 1986, the filmmaker John Hughes sought to portray an absent parent as cold and unloving, he reached for a simple architectural trope: the modernist minimalism of Mies van der Rohe. 

Hughes grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and was proud to film in the city where Mies van der Rohe expressed himself most fully. "Chicago is what I am," he once said, "a lot of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is sort of my love letter to the city."  

 

Mies van der Rohe with A James Speyer and George Danforth in the studio of the Architecture Department, Armour Institute, Chicago, 1939
Mies van der Rohe with A James Speyer and George Danforth in the studio of the Architecture Department, Armour Institute, Chicago, 1939

So when it came to setting the scene where Bueller convinces his put-upon friend, Cameron Fry, to steal his father's Ferrari from its glass-walled parking garage, Hughes knew exactly where to shoot.

The single-storey house on Beech Street in the Highland Park suburb of Chicago, was actually built by in 1953 by Mies’s protégé, A. James Speyer, while the accompanying pavilion, which housed the car in the film, was added in 1974 by fellow Mies collaborator David Haid.

 

The director’s architectural tastes might have been more traditional, yet local preservation body, Landmark Illinois, say the house is “considered to be Speyer’s best architectural work and is notable for its progressive design and its deference to the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Speyer’s professor at IIT (The Illinois Institute of Technology).”

Landmark also listed a number of threats to the house, including a possible redevelopment bid. Thankfully, its preservation appears to have been assured, the house has just sold for $1.06m. A high price for a suburban bungalow, yet perhaps a low one for a piece of both architectural and cinematic history. For more on this particular house check out Landmarks Illinois. And for much greater insight into Mies, his work in Chicago - and his numerous protégés, buy our authoritative new volume, Mies.


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