Ferris Bueller’s high art
The classic 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’’ is much more than a hijinks school comedy heroising some quick witted kids. Like many, I am occasionally drawn to re watch and relive a time of relative innocence where truancy was considered the high-water mark for rebelliousness, and the resulting adverse school record serving more as a 'diploma' to reflect your individuality as a high school undergraduate.
The movie resonates on another, more sublime level, quite separate from the sociological one that evokes the nostalgia. This subliminal level is given an overture, when Ferris, his girlfriend and buddy visit the Art Institute of Chicago, where they appear to pay solemn homage to masterpieces that include works by Picasso and Pollock. This of course is incongruous for truants.
The movie presents us with two pieces of high art. High art to me is exemplary human expression which inspires us to see what is possible. It is timeless, and reconnects us to our humanity.
The first piece is the Carrozzeria Scaglietti sculptured1961 Ferrari 250GT California Spider - arguably one of the best that Ferrari has ever created. This sports car, is an undeniable masterpiece that is prized by collectors. This is proven by the massive value it is ascribed at car auctions. In studying its sculptured presence, one notices that apart from meeting the needs of aerodynamics and projecting a powerful dynamism while being idle, it also, from its anterior exhibits a humanistic persona. In the film, the Ferrari 250GT peacefully resides, for most of the time, at Ferris’ best friend Cameron Frye’s fathers home. The home seemed inspired in the way it not only showcased the iconic Ferrari but also in the way it seemed to be in total harmony with its setting.
Of course, this made me research its provenance to understand who was responsible for the second piece of high art. I was not at all surprised to find that it was designed by A.James Speyer, who was a student of the great modernist architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The residence, built in 1953, is known as the Ben Rose House and is located in Highland Park, Illinois. Apart for being an example of mid-century architecture at its finest, it spurs us to contemplate what it is that makes a residential building so much at peace with its setting. This contemplation is timely, as too often these days we hear about 'sustainable housing', which in my opinion, for the most part only addresses a fraction of what sustainability is really about.
The conversation surrounding sustainability appears to pivot around energy efficiency, with little to no consideration given to the carbon footprint or the way that a building harmonises with its environmental setting. Traditional bulk building materials such as masonry and concrete are some of the biggest offenders as far as the carbon impact that they have on the environment. Industry custom and practice and materials supply chains tend to impede the shift to more sustainable building materials which would provide architects a richer palette.
The Ben Rose House is low impact to the environment. The design adopts a beam and column structural frame to raise it above the sloping site without resorting to cutting, filling or retaining walls. Its design has been in harmony with its setting since 1953. Its carbon footprint has been spectacularly low. Its design, reaches out and invites the surrounding beauty to become part of its interior design, while at the same time paying homage to its setting by way of its architectural and structural design.
We should pay more attention to high art and learn from its subliminal messages. Ferris was without doubt worthy of a distinction grade, for having a day off!
Dario Amara FIEAust, CPEng, NER, APEC Engineer, IntPE(Aus) is a second-generation builder, experienced construction, and engineering executive and chartered professional engineer with some 40 years' industry experience. He has also served as Chairman of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Chairman of the West Australian Opera Company and Chairman of Heritage Perth amongst other positions.