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Dormant volcanoes and working monorails: the grand designs of Ken Adam, master of the Bond-villain lair

A new book celebrates the late production designer whose elaborate concepts for films from Bond to Dr Strangelove influenced the likes of Norman Foster – and it all started with a felt-tip Villains hiding out in underground lairs, councils of war meeting at spotlit circular tables, bank vaults full of gold bullion piled high. The popular imagination of what these secret, off-limits places might look like has been shaped, more than anything else, by the dramatic visions of the late production designer Ken Adam.

As the creative mind behind seven James Bond films across the 60s and 70s, and numerous other movies, from Dr Strangelove to Addams Family Values, Adam dreamed up the look of nuclear submarine bases, mountain laboratories, hi-tech space stations, glamorous Las Vegas penthouses, and missile launchers hidden inside volcanoes. In doing so, he built some of the most memorable and influential spaces, not only in the history of cinema but also in the history of architecture, real or imagined. Today, his influence can be felt whenever you walk into a soaring office atrium, take a vertiginous escalator ride into a cavernous subway station, or even get shuttled through a tunnel between airport terminals. He was the master of a style he termed “heightened reality”, taking everyday spaces and giving them a theatrical, supercharged glamour.

Countless architects have copied it since. Norman Foster’s design for the cone-shaped room at the top of the Gherkin is perhaps the most Adam-esque space in London; his Faustino winery in Spain could be a Bond baddie’s lair. A longtime fan, Foster once described Adam as “a master of space and light”, who realised the kinds of spaces that the 18th-century architectural draughtsmen-dreamers, like Giovanni Piranesi and Étienne-Louis Boullée, had only imagined. “Those legendary architectural figures” had “hypothesised visually, graphically, environments of awesome power”, he said. “Ken Adam builds them.”

Seven years after his death, the workings behind the magic have been brought together in a mammoth new book, The Ken Adam Archive, featuring interviews and production sketches from some of the 70 completed and 15 unrealised projects that he worked on over his 50-year career. Weighing in at 4kg, with the dimensions and heft of a paving slab, it feels like a suitably colossal tome to mark the mind behind the most ambitious film sets ever built. Continue reading...

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