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Wright By Hitchcock

In each of Alfred Hitchcock’s films there has been an iconic structure at the center – the apartment complex in “Rear Window” (1954), The Mission Tower in “Vertigo” (1958), The Bates House in “Psycho” (1960), the schoolhouse in “The Birds” (1963).

One interesting structure is seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense epic “North by Northwest” (1959) starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason as Roger Vandamm. And it is the The Vandamm House, jutting from the cliffs near Mt. Rushmore, that seems to be the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Surprisingly, it was not his design.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright is famous for his homes characterized by seeming to be organic with the landscape and taking full advantage of the disadvantages of its environment. Designer of the famous Kaufmann home, "Falling Water" in western Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence was seen nationwide. He was a very strict businessman over his services and the distribution of his work, and when Hitchcock could not get, or afford Wright to design a house atop Mt. Rushmore, there was only one thing Hitchcock could do. Copy. Designers were set to work, studying Wright’s designs. A full-scale house was built in Culver City at MGM Studios. Along with the full-scale model of Mt. Rushmore, the cost of the endeavor totaled more than $50,000.

The set designers pulled different elements of Wright’s style. Defining details were to use materials making the structure look organic and to have come from the landscape from which it was built upon. One key aspect that separates the Vandamm House from a Wright house is the aluminum supports. Wright would have used a concrete cantilever. In the film, the audience sees Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) scale the aluminum supports.

Architecture has played as an important a role as the actor in many cinematic productions. From the ancient temples of Ben-Hur to the skyscrapers in The Fountainhead to the whimsy of Halloweentown in The Nightmare Before Christmas, architecture has been used to help establish more than just time period. It can impress affluence, strength and turmoil of the characters and story. The Vandamme House, although it does not exist, is no exception.

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