»Intelligence starts with improvisation.«

Yona Friedman

Blog Agenda

Bigger than Life

Ken Adam exhibition in Berlin

  • Ken Adam as seen in a video installation made for the “Bigger Than Life” exhibition (Installation by Boris Hars-Tschachotin, photo: Andreas-Michael Velten, 2014) 1 / 21  Ken Adam as seen in a video installation made for the “Bigger Than Life” exhibition (Installation by Boris Hars-Tschachotin, photo: Andreas-Michael Velten, 2014)
  • ... and back in 1964 in his legendary set of the War Room for Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”. (GB/USA 1964, Photo © with thanks to the SK Film Archives LLC, Warner Bros. and University of the Arts London) 2 / 21  ... and back in 1964 in his legendary set of the War Room for Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”. (GB/USA 1964, Photo © with thanks to the SK Film Archives LLC, Warner Bros. and University of the Arts London)
  • Design drawing for the War Room. (Image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 3 / 21  Design drawing for the War Room. (Image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Ken and Letizia Adam and their E-Type Jaguar. (London 1964; © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 4 / 21  Ken and Letizia Adam and their E-Type Jaguar. (London 1964; © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Fort Knox for “Goldfinger”. (GB/USA 1964, directed by Guy Hamilton; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 5 / 21  Fort Knox for “Goldfinger”. (GB/USA 1964, directed by Guy Hamilton; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Villains get the best apartments: Blofeld’s Volcano Lair for “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; both images © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 6 / 21  Villains get the best apartments: Blofeld’s Volcano Lair for “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; both images © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Tiger Tanaka’s office, also for “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; both images © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 7 / 21  Tiger Tanaka’s office, also for “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; both images © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Ken Adam on the set of “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; image © 1967 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation) 8 / 21  Ken Adam on the set of “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; image © 1967 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation)
  • Beyond Bond: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. (GB/USA 1968, directed by Ken Hughes; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 9 / 21  Beyond Bond: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. (GB/USA 1968, directed by Ken Hughes; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • The Willard Whyte House for “Diamonds Are Forever”. (GB/USA 1971; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 10 / 21  The Willard Whyte House for “Diamonds Are Forever”. (GB/USA 1971; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Design study for the Liparus Super-Tanker in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. (GB/F 1977, directed by Lewis Gilbert; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 11 / 21  Design study for the Liparus Super-Tanker in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. (GB/F 1977, directed by Lewis Gilbert; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Atlantis for “The Spy Who Loved Me”. (GB/USA 1977; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 12 / 21  Atlantis for “The Spy Who Loved Me”. (GB/USA 1977; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • Concept design for “Moonraker”. (GB/F 1979, directed by Lewis Gilbert; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 13 / 21  Concept design for “Moonraker”. (GB/F 1979, directed by Lewis Gilbert; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • The Zero Gravity Space for “Moonraker” as sketch... (GB/F 1979; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 14 / 21  The Zero Gravity Space for “Moonraker” as sketch... (GB/F 1979; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • ...and as set. (Photo © 1979 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation) 15 / 21  ...and as set. (Photo © 1979 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation)
  • Design sketch of the Starship Enterprise for “Star Trek – the Motion Picture”. (USA 1979, directed by Robert Wise; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek) 16 / 21  Design sketch of the Starship Enterprise for “Star Trek – the Motion Picture”. (USA 1979, directed by Robert Wise; image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)
  • The highly recommendable exhibition in Berlin includes some personal memorabilia of Adam including one of his Academy Awards... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 17 / 21  The highly recommendable exhibition in Berlin includes some personal memorabilia of Adam including one of his Academy Awards... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • ...and newly built models for some of his set designs such as the submarine base in “The Spy Who Loved Me”... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 18 / 21  ...and newly built models for some of his set designs such as the submarine base in “The Spy Who Loved Me”... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • ...or the creepy mansion home of the “Addams Family” (not related to Ken). (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 19 / 21  ...or the creepy mansion home of the “Addams Family” (not related to Ken). (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • Along with actor Steve Martin and production designer Alex McDowell, architect Daniel Libeskind was interviewed specifically for the exhibition. (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 20 / 21  Along with actor Steve Martin and production designer Alex McDowell, architect Daniel Libeskind was interviewed specifically for the exhibition. (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • Star guests at the press conference: Ken and Letizia Adam, 10 December 2014. (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 21 / 21  Star guests at the press conference: Ken and Letizia Adam, 10 December 2014. (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)

Legendary production designer Ken Adam donated his entire archive to the German Museum for Film and Television in Berlin. uncube’s Florian Heilmeyer went to the preview of the resulting new major retrospective of his work and met the sprightly nonagenarian in person.

Ken Adam has really designed everything. From villas and luxurious apartments to temples, cathedrals, spaceships, supertankers, overhead railways, missile bases and submarines. One could probably call him one of the most successful and influential architects of the 20th century even though he hasn’t actually realised most of his designs – at least if you consider the word “realise” in terms of “reality”. Adam’s design reality has been the production design for films instead ranging from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove to Robert Aldrich’s Sodom and Gomorra, or Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George. Of course his most popular designs are the ones he did for seven James Bond films including the iconic Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker. In total, he worked on more than 70 films from 1948 until 2001.

Kenneth Hugo Adam was born on 5 February 1921 as Klaus Hugo Adam in Berlin. Being Jewish, the family fled to England in 1934 when the Nazi government forced their business into bankruptcy. In London he finished school and studied architecture for a while at the Bartlett School in London. During World War II Adam helped to design bomb shelters before joining the RAF in 1940 as one of only three German-national pilots from 1940-45 (earning the nickname “Heinie the Tank-Buster”).

Design drawing for the War Room. (Image © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)

After the war Adam went to work for the British film industry. He worked as a draughtsman for Around the World in 80 Days and Ben Hur and earned his own first major screen credits for the thriller Soho Incident and the cult horror flick Night of the Demon. This was followed by set designs for both James Bond’s screen debut Dr. No, and director Stanley Kubrick. The collaboration with the latter lead to Adam’s iconic set design for Dr. Strangelove including the immortal “War Room” with it’s triangular roof, which, as Adam likes to tell, impressed Ronald Reagan so much that, when he became president of the U.S. in January 1981 and was shown around the White House for the first time, he asked to be taken to that War Room. It is said that he was terribly disappointed to discover that the room only existed on film.

Ken Adam can recount dozens of such anecdotes, quite obviously taking people’s occasional confusion between his set designs and reality as a big compliment. Although his design mottos “Bigger Than Life” and “No design is worth doing it if you just reproduce reality” may sound a bit platitudinous, it seems that this striving towards making the world bigger, bolder and more shiny (on film at least) has indeed been the driving force behind his constant stretching of the boundaries of possibility.  His most remarkable, semi-futuristic spaces like Blofeld’s Volcano Lair, Tiger Tanaka’s Office or the Tarantula Room for Dr. No are superb examples of this – in Adam’s world the villains always seem to get the best pads.

Villains get the best apartments: Blofeld’s Volcano Lair for “You Only Live Twice”. (GB/USA 1967, directed by Lewis Gilbert; both images © Ken Adam Archive/Deutsche Kinemathek)

Thus, Bigger Than Life is a highly appropriate title for the new major exhibition which opened in Berlin on 11 December with Ken and his wife Letizia Adam – both in their nineties now – as adorably charming star guests. Despite the fact that his family was forced to leave Germany and that Adam even ended up fighting against his former home country, he returned to Germany and Berlin regularly after the War. In 2012 he decided to give his entire collection of more than 4,000 drawings, photos, objects, and personal memorabilia to the Deutsche Kinemathek (German Museum for Film and Television)  in Berlin. This intelligent, well-designed and carefully curated exhibition provides a really good overview over Adam's immense body of work, bringing his most important drawings together with excerpts from the films and newly made models of some of his designs. It really feels like strolling through Ken Adam’s impressively creative mind and at the end of the exhibition it comes as no surprise to learn that architects such as Norman Foster and Daniel Libeskind cite him as a big inspiration. After all, as this show demonstrates so well, Adam’s work played a significant role in making modern architecture popular with a huge and broad audience worldwide – even if it’s mostly as homes for the bad guys.

– Florian Heilmeyer

11 December 2014 – 17 May 2015:
Bigger Than Life. Ken Adam’s Film Design

Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen
Potsdamer Straße 2
10785 Berlin

 

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

PUBLISHED 11 Dec 2014 WHAT Agenda WHERE Berlin WHO Ken Adam AUTHOR

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×