Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
ABOVE: Ken Adam
photographed at his studio working on designs for the The
Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976).
Sir Ken Adam (1921 –
I think the function of a
film production designer is to create something which the audience has
Ken Adam is regarded as
one of the most important Production Designers of the 20th century.
Adam was born in Berlin
and his family fled Hitler’s regime in the 1930s. After serving in the RAF
during the Second World War, he became involved in production design in
1948, getting his first Art Director credit on Around the World in
Eighty Days (1956). Since then, Adam designed 75 films, creating the
bold and revolutionary designs for seven James Bond films (Dr. No,
Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, The
Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) as well as the startling ‘War
Room’ in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1963), described by
Stephen Spielberg as ‘the best movie set ever built’.
Adam was the first
production designer to be knighted in 2003.
Adam’s biographer and
close friend, Christopher Frayling, has written:
He was a brilliant
visualiser of worlds we will never be able to visit ourselves - the War
Room under the Pentagon in Dr. Strangelove, the interior of Fort
Knox in Goldfinger - all sorts of interiors which, as members of
the public, we are never going to get to see, but he created an image of
them that was more real than real itself.
Design for Bond
Adam designed seven James Bond films; Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger
(1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967),
Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and
Dr. No (1962)
introduced Sean Connery as Bond and the production design as ‘heightened
sense of reality’ which would shape the look of the Bond film for the next
After we encounter Dr.
No – his voice anyway – on the island of Crab Key, I adopted a slightly
tongue-in-cheek, slightly ahead-of-contemporary approach: the mixture of
antique and modern in his underground apartment, with the Goya
Wellington portrait propped on the couch and a magnified aquarium in the
Ken Adam on Dr. No
ABOVE: (left) Sir
Ken Adam at the Exhibition "Bigger than life", Munich 2015
[Photo: Robert Haas] (top right) Adam himself painted the copy of Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington (which had recently been
stolen from the National Gallery) seen in Dr. No's apartment.
(bottom right) Adam also contributed to the redesign of James
Bond's Aston Martin DB5 with intricate technical drawings of the
car which was ultimately modified for use in Goldfinger
(1964) by special effects supervisor John Stears and his team.
Adam was central to the
success of the Bond films and designed not only the sets but many of the
vehicles and gadgets, now synonymous with the Bond franchise. For Bond’s
car, the Aston Martin DB5, Adam created the ‘extras’ such as the
reinforced bumpers, a gun in a hidden compartment and one of the most
famous Bond moments – the ejector seat.
One of Adam’s most
memorable set-pieces was for Goldfinger (1964) - the interior of
Fort-Knox in the United States.
I’d seen the interiors
of the gold vaults at the Bank of England, and found them most
uninteresting – a series of low tunnels really. So I decided to use
stylisation. And I had quite a battle about whether it was over the top.
I wanted to build a cathedral of gold, almost forty foot high –
completely impractical: gold is too heavy for that. But it worked.
Ken Adam on Goldfinger
Adam’s final film for the Bond franchise
was Moonraker (1979). For research into the space shuttle, Adam
spent time at NASA with scientists developing the shuttle programme.
Hugo Drax has this hidden launch
complex for the Moonraker rockets concealed behind the Iguaçu waterfalls
on the Brazil-Argentine border. There was a control room in the shape of
a pyramid with an adjoining Great Hall in the Mayan style. I partly
based this on Mayan art – in a contemporary setting.
Ken Adam on Moonraker
The V&A Museum will
celebrate Adam’s extraordinary contribution to the art of production
design on Saturday 9 September.
Christopher Frayling, Ian Christie, Jane Barnwell and Matthew Sweet. Film
director Nicholas Hynter will recall working with Adam on the film version
of The Madness of King George (1994) for which Adam won his second
Oscar (the first was for Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in 1975).