Home » The Fascinating Secret Behind The Bridge Model In Die Hard

The Fascinating Secret Behind The Bridge Model In Die Hard

Die Hard Bridge Ts
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Ah, Die Hard. It’s the Christmas movie people love to pretend isn’t a Christmas movie because they can’t reconcile the idea of something bad happening on Christmas. Santa wouldn’t let that happen, right? Anyway, it’s a movie about some menacing bad guys, lead by one Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), taking over a corporate holiday party, only to face off against an unexpected wild card named John McClane. There’s a certain neat little detail in the film that you might have missed, but we’re here to bring it to your attention today.

If it’s been a while since you’ve watched the film, fire it up, and tune in around the 27-minute mark. We see Gruber walking around a series of models with his hostage, Mr. Takagi, the President of Nakatomi Trading. He sets his eye on a gorgeous model of a bridge, leading Takagi to question whether Gruber’s interest lay in the company’s “project in Indonesia.” Not the case, as Gruber readily admits, but let’s hone in on the model.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Architecture buffs will recognize the piece as a model of the Butterfly Bridge, as designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Far from a 1980s project designed for Indonesia, it was a mid-century project designed for San Francisco. Almost immediately after the Bay Bridge was built in the 1930s, traffic was considered excessive and there were calls from some quarters for a second span to be built. As one of the nation’s foremost architects, and a lover of San Francisco, Frank Lloyd Wright eventually took it upon himself to design a bridge for this very purpose, and spent much of the 1950s trying to cajole Californian authorities into building it.

As was his style, Wright eschewed traditional methods and went his own way when he penned the gorgeous Butterfly Bridge design. The bridge relies on swooping concrete forms rather than unsightly suspension cables or simple flat cantilever sections. Carrying three lanes of traffic in each direction along with two pedestrian walkways, the bridge split the roadways in the middle to feature a large garden in the center. The idea was that traffic could actually stop in the middle of the span to enjoy the green space and sea air. The proposed route would have seen the bridge built south of the existing Bay Bridge, starting at Cesar Chavez St on the San Francisco side, heading out over the bay towards Oakland.

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The bridge would never come to fruition, with government officials considering the proposed bridge too risky. Without a commission to build the bridge, the money wasn’t there to explore a full engineering design for the project, and Wright’s glorious design ended up shelved.

The question then stands as to how this bridge ended up in Die Hard. The answer is actually quite simple—it’s all down to the influence of producer Joel Silver. Silver is a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, and that shows through quite heavily in the film. For example, in Nakatomi Plaza, where the film takes place, the actual atrium in which the hostages are held was modeled after Fallingwater, one of the more famous houses that Wright designed during his lifetime. That was the idea of production designer Jackson De Govia, who was familiar with Silver’s taste in architecture.

Die Hard Bridge 3

Die Hard Bridge 1

Die Hard Bridge 2

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As for the bridge model, what you’re looking at in the film may actually be an authentic piece, according to one source. In the article “20 Interesting Facts About Die Hard” from All The Right Movies, Charlie Bleecker states that the model was spotted by de Govia in a Frank Lloyd Wright book. He then apparently arranged for it to be shipped from Wright’s Arizona residence to be used on the set.

That’s a big claim with plenty of detail, but one we haven’t been able to completely verify. It’s worth noting that in the film, the bridge model is sitting on a rectangular mirrored table, while some images from the 1950s show it on a table with what appear to be rounded edges. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation appears to currently maintain a model of the bridge, too, but it’s less grandiose and sits on a thin table against a wall as of 2021. It may be that the bridge model itself was considered separate from any tables it was displayed on over the years. In any case, The Autopian has reached out to De Govia’s people to try and shed some light on the matter. As you can imagine, the production designer for Die Hard is big enough to have his own people.

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And speaking of being famous, at the time the bridge model was probably more notable than the lead antagonist. Alan Rickman’s prior credits before Die Hard were largely in the world of classical theatre. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s population measured in the millions in the middle of the century. Today, Rickman, who passed in 2016, is obviously a far bigger star than a bridge that was never built, but Wright’s creation deserves its due.

In any case, San Francisco has long abandoned the idea of doing more road bridges over the Bay. That’s fine from a transit perspective, but we really wish someone had built the Butterfly as designed. It’s gorgeous, and we need more of that beauty in the world.

Image credits: Die Hard/20th Century Fox via screenshot

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Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago

Fun fact. Die Hard director McTeirnan wanted Alan Rickman again to play the baddie Benedict in The Last Action Hero. By then Rickman was a huge star and they couldn’t afford him, so got Charles Dance instead. On the set Dance wore a t-shirt that said ‘I’m cheaper than Rickman”.

Ian McClure
Ian McClure
3 months ago

Wright was a great architect but a lousy engineer, it’s just as well we didn’t build his bridge.

Fawgcutter
Fawgcutter
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian McClure

You must have read about the SC Johnson building roof where he was ahead of his time (no silicone sealants).

Ian McClure
Ian McClure
3 months ago
Reply to  Fawgcutter

More about how Fallingwater is a structural nightmare and can’t support its own weight anymore.

The Dude
The Dude
3 months ago

“In any case, San Francisco has long abandoned the idea of doing more road bridges over the Bay.”

Haven’t kept up on it since I moved from the area a few years ago, but I think BART is in the early stages of planning another underwater tube. But technically that’s not above water ????

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
3 months ago

Judging from the structural concerns with Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, including Falling Water, this not having been built was probably for the best.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
3 months ago

It’s not a stretch to believe that this is the real FLLW model.

In 1987-88, there was a traveling exhibit of FLLW works called “In the Realm of Ideas”
It included original furniture, the model of “Broadacre City”, a full-scale model Usonian House, and this bridge model – which was exhibited in a handful of cities across the country, including Marin County in the parking lot of the FLLW-designed Civic Center building.
(Yes, I was there)

Joel Silver was indeed a big fan, he owned the Storer house in the Hollywood Hills, and the Auldbrass Plantation in the Carolinas.

He would only have needed to make an additional substantial donation to the Foundation to get this piece into his “Nakatomi Tower” set within the top floors of Fox Plaza in Century City – which was built in the former backlot of Fox Studios.

Last edited 3 months ago by Urban Runabout
Paul B
Paul B
3 months ago

In any case, San Francisco has long abandoned the idea of doing more road bridges over the Bay. That’s fine from a transit perspective, but we really wish someone had built the Butterfly as designed. It’s gorgeous, and we need more of that beauty in the world.”

Build it as a transit bridge with a stop for the park feature in the middle!

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
3 months ago

I would love to see someone finally build this thing in an appropriate venue. It deserves to see the light of day!

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
3 months ago

It’s a measure of the Autopian’s goofiness that I wasted no time wondering why I was seeing a bridge article this morning. (Reminds me that Erin Marquis had a great piece about the Ambassador Bridge on the lighting site: https://jalopnik.com/how-one-man-turned-the-busiest-international-border-cro-1844367015).

I’m a Wright fan but clearly not an expert; I knew nothing of this bridge before this morning . It would have been beautiful but eventually a failure: think of the optimism—“I’m going to toddle to Oakland to the Home Depot, honey, want to have a picnic on the bridge?” Later, all that 1950s concrete crumbling into the bay? And think of the fight over its inevitable demolition.

The counterargument is in the beautiful structures of Santiago Calatrava, which show similar defiant optimism. Like the Guggenheim, they will prove durable.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
3 months ago
Reply to  Slower Louder

The counterargument is in the beautiful structures of Santiago Calatrava, which show similar defiant optimism. Like the Guggenheim, they will prove durable.

Rapidly scrolled through the comments to find a mention of Calatrava, found the perfect one. Beautifully put.

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
3 months ago
Reply to  SonOfLP500

Wow thanks.

J3FFER50N
J3FFER50N
3 months ago

Its funny how many people claim to be so edgy they watch Die Hard at Christmas, but no one mentions that Die Hard 2 (Die Harder) is also set at Christmas time!
“how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”

*not directed at anyone here*

Last edited 3 months ago by J3FFER50N
Outofstep
Outofstep
3 months ago
Reply to  J3FFER50N

Sure was! I gotta watch part 2 again. Its been too long

ProfPlum
ProfPlum
3 months ago
Reply to  J3FFER50N

We watched both movies on Christmas Day (FWIW, Christmas Eve’s movie was Bad Santa)

There is an acknowledgment to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for the use of the bridge at the end of the credits.

Ron888
Ron888
3 months ago
Reply to  J3FFER50N

You’re right of course.Sadly it was almost as bad as the original was good.The plot holes,oh my God the staggering plot holes- like all the other airports nearby they could have landed at

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
3 months ago
Reply to  Ron888

The film explains that the surrounding airports were closed due to the storm, and that any aircraft that could turn back had done so. It doesn’t stand up to deep scrutiny, but at least they threw it out there for the laypeople. IIRC, all the (inaccurate) air transport stuff came from the source material.

Black Peter
Black Peter
3 months ago
Reply to  J3FFER50N

Sure but remember Lethal Weapon did it first.

J3FFER50N
J3FFER50N
3 months ago
Reply to  Black Peter

True, the sheriffs office in Rambo 1st blood has a Christmas tree. a little on the nose but jingle all the way with schwarzenegger kinda holds up

Last edited 3 months ago by J3FFER50N
D-dub
D-dub
3 months ago

>Insert zoolander gif<

What is this? A website for architects?

Sgtyukon
Sgtyukon
3 months ago

If “Die Hard” isn’t a Christmas movie, then neither is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
3 months ago
Reply to  Sgtyukon

Die Hard is one of three Christmas movies we watch every year… the other two being Gremlins and Krampus.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

The idea was that traffic could actually stop in the middle of the span to enjoy the green space and sea air.

Sounds nice but it’s probably better it was never built. Had it the green space would today be taken over by homeless to become a big homeless encampment and the traffic lanes in a perpetual state of congestion. Thanks to its location its constant headaches would be ignored as much as possible by both SF and Oakland, each pointing the finger at each other.

Traffic congestion would be partly caused by drivers trying to force their way back into the traffic after stopping to take a much needed dump in a port a potty (nicer than the regular potties, because homeless) after being trapped in that very same traffic for way too long. If the port a potties are too crowded and the regular potties too gross the bushes become fair game which just adds to the nasty.

The experience would also not be helped by swarms of homeless, taking advantage of the stopped cars to panhandle, nor their garbage blowing through the lanes, nor the increased number of emergency vehicles trying to make their way through the congestion to resolve BOTH homeless and traffic issues.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I hate how quickly I said to myself “yeah, I could see that”. It’s like things need to be designed these days in a way that they improve peoples lives but also exist in a way that it’s difficult for those same people to ruin them.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Went to SF for the first time in 2010 and fell in love with it. Totally head over heels.
Went back in 2016, and finally 2019 and it breaks my heart what has happened to it.

Keith Godshall
Keith Godshall
3 months ago

Leave it to The Autopian to produce a story about an obscure bridge design by a famous architect in a famous movie. Thanks for the insight Lewin. I’ve seen Die Hard numerous times and thought the bridge model was very cool, but never knew it was based on an actual design.

Last edited 3 months ago by Keith Godshall
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

I remember that Architectural Digest article in the mid 90s about Joel Silver’s ca 10 year restoration project on the Storer House, one of Wright’s 1920s textile block Mayan Revival projects. He would have been right in the middle of that during Die Hard

Chris McCoy
Chris McCoy
3 months ago

Being an Architect, movie-lover, and a reader of this site: THANK YOU for this article! Frank Lloyd Wright is celebrated by both Architects and the Public (albeit at times for different reasons), but sharing the story about interesting Architecture is always appreciated. Die Hard is a classic and good holiday movie!

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
3 months ago

My wife and I just watched this for what felt like the 20th time, and I never remember thinking much about the bridge. But literally, during the most recent watch on the 23rd, I said, “That’s a cool bridge. Way cooler than Nakatomi Tower.” That being said, the interior of Nakatomi Tower is pretty cool, with the water feature and overall design, but the outside is so lame.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
3 months ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Agreed!

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
3 months ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

That space – after the film production ceased – went unleased for quite some time.
The developer finally made a phone call to Ronald Reagan and asked if he’d like the office space for his post-presidency.
And that’s how Ronald Reagan became the first real tenant for that space.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
3 months ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

I happened to be working in Century City (the real-life location of Fox Plaza/Nakatomi Center) when Fox Plaza was built and Die Hard was filmed, and I thought it was the best-looking high rise that LA had seen in decades. Different strokes, I guess.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

Ehhhh, ’80s Postmodernism isn’t something I like at all. Saying it’s the best looking high-rise in LA isn’t a compliment to me. Not many good looking high-rises in LA. If I had to choose any current ones to compliment, it’d probably be City National and Paul Hastings towers. 611 Place is pretty cool too.

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