BBC Culture

On location: Iconic Modernist movie houses

  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

    The setting for one of the best meltdowns in film history sold last month for $1.06m after five years on the market. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Cameron Frye totals his father’s red Ferrari by accidentally pushing it through the window of this glass and steel box. The house was designed by a student of Mies van der Rohe, and is revered by architecture enthusiasts as much as by movie buffs. Built in 1953, the building near Chicago was on the market for five years but its new owners plan to restore it to its original condition. (

  • Contempt

    Italian architect Adalberto Libera was known for his grand civic structures – until Jean-Luc Godard filmed his 1963 classic Contempt at a small house designed by Libera on the island of Capri. The structure reflected the tendencies of its owner, magical realist writer Curzio Malaparte, with an odd shape and one side made up of a series of ledges that are both a set of stairs and the roof. Casa Malaparte was already 20 years old when it was cast as the home of a brash American film producer played by Jack Palance; according to Casting Architecture: “The peeling paint and rusted bars provided just the right menacing quality while the dramatic site with its white rocks and cobalt sea suited Godard’s intense colour palette.” (Paul Mayall Italy / Alamy)

  • The Big Lebowski

    American architect John Lautner’s designs should have billing in their own right: they’ve had enough screen time over the years to qualify as A-listers. They have been pulled down by Mel Gibson’s truck in Lethal Weapon 2, housed Colin Firth in A Single Man, and offeried a family home for Clay Easton in Less than Zero. This house in Beverly Hills, known as the Sheats Goldstein residence, provided a party crib for pornographer Jackie Treehorn in The Big Lebowski. Built between 1961 and 1963 into the sandstone of the hillside, it has a roof that shears down from the living room to the pool in one line, pierced with 750 skylights, and a skeleton made from poured-in-place concrete. (Arch.James/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

  • Sleeper

    Architect Charles Deaton built this clam-shaped house on a Colorado mountain in 1963 but ran out of money before he could finish its interior. Ten years later, it provided the setting for Woody Allen’s sci-fi comedy Sleeper, in which a man awakens after being cryogenically frozen. The Sculptured House was finally completed in 2003, and sold for $1.53m in 2010. The home’s cylindrical lift had a starring role as the Orgasmatron, a device used to stimulate people in the movie’s sex-free future. (Wikimedia Commons)

  • Diamonds are Forever

    John Lautner features again with what is arguably the ultimate James Bond villain’s lair: Elrod House in Palm Springs. In the 1971 film Diamonds are Forever, bikini-clad villains attack Bond (Sean Connery) with a series of acrobatic moves in the pavilion, before throwing him in the pool. The house, built in 1968, is known for its giant domed concrete roof. A former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner eschewed the geometry of his minimalist peers for organic structures that have influenced current ‘starchitects’ Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. (Wikiarquitectura)

  • LA Confidential

    Built in 1927, the Lovell House in Los Angeles was the first steel frame home in the US, and the first to feature sprayed concrete. Designed by Richard Neutra, it was given shady associations when it appeared as the home of drug baron and porn king Pierce Patchett in the 1997 film LA Confidential. Neutra had worked briefly with Frank Lloyd Wright, and he combined Wright’s openness to the landscape with European-style Modernism. According to the Financial Times: “This combination of central European complexity and west coast sunshine proves the perfect foil for Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential, with its labyrinthine plot and corrupt characters.” (Los Angeles/Wikipedia/CC BY 3.0)

  • Body Double

    Resembling a hovering flying saucer, the eight-sided Chemosphere was once described by the Encyclopedia Brittanica as “the most modern home built in the world”. Another Lautner design, it sits on a 29ft-high, 5ft-wide concrete column in the Hollywood hills, and featured as a space-age backdrop in Brian de Palma’s 1984 movie Body Double. The house, built for a couple and their four children in 1960, also inspired the look of Sam Rockwell’s house in the first Charlie’s Angels film. "Something I find fascinating about the house is that it is a single-family home," current owner Benedikt Taschen told The LA Times. "And yet whenever that house is used in the movies, it's always a decadent bachelor pad.” (Arcaid Images / Alamy)