Ken Adam, the set designer of brutalist architecture


Known to most as the production designer of the James Bond sets, Ken Adam was an experimenter in stage props and creator of a cinematic architecture capable of fusing glamour and modernism.  

Where can a terrorist cell hide? Sometimes, even in the cavern of an extinct Japanese volcano. It happens in movies, of course, as in the case of Ken Adam (1921 – 2016), a German set designer working in post-war England, who designed and built the lair of the terrifying Spectre in You Only Live Twice, one of the most famous James Bond films.

A portrait of Ken Adam

This monumental and somewhat space-age project is not the only one in Adam’s work that marks an imaginary and cinematic strand. In the seven films of the 007 saga in which he will be involved, Adam has made the juxtaposition of brutalist architecture and mid-century sophistication a hallmark that will unite interiors of the most disparate kinds, from mansions to bunkers, meeting rooms, hotel rooms, chapels, and military bases, to even include futuristic spy cars – most notably Goldfinger’s Aston Martin DB5. Exposed concrete, the protagonist of the scene, is used to accentuate the structural lines of the space, emphasizing its dynamic tension, but coexisting with touches of sensuality offered by the recurrence of circular forms and sculptural furnishings made inviting by the tactile quality of the materials.

His prolific output, now reconstructed in a new volume published by Taschen in collaboration with the Deutsche Kinemathek, which houses Adam's archive, spans fifty films and a fifty-year career. The expressionist and brutalist matrix that made him famous will not be the only aesthetic his sets flirt with. Alongside Stanley Kubrick, Adam will make iconic both the button room of Dr. Strangelove and the baroque and sumptuous majesty of Barry Lindon's mansions, a testament to his chameleon-like versatility, always at the service of the demands of cinematic fiction.

The Ken Adam Archive, Christopher Frayling, Hardcover bound in iridescent bicolor fabric with tipped-in four phase lenticular, 36 x 36 cm, 3,88 kg, 360 pages, with acrylic, engraved bookstand, €850.

All photos courtesy Taschen

Latest on Design

Latest on Domus

Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram