March 10, 2016


James Bond Designer Ken Adam passed away today. Adam had fled to England from Germany as a thirteen-year-old and devoted his young life to the study of architecture. He designed bomb shelters in the early days of WWII and later became one of only three German-born pilots for the RAF during wartime. He first lent his artistic talents to the movie industry in the late 1940s and went on to hone his craft on projects such as Around the World in 80 Days, Ben-Hur, and Night of the Demon. Adam was hired to design the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962), where his unique vision- in my opinion- added the crucial ingredient that brought success to adapting 007 to the screen. Admittedly there were a number of important elements, from casting, script, and score, but it was the dark, futuristic environments of Adam's designs that made Bond a dynamic and timely hit. In many ways, Hitchcock and Fritz Lang had pioneered placing movie thrillers in unusual settings. But Adam's designs brought a larger-than-life quality to the Bond franchise and set Fleming's secret agent firmly in the world of the Space Age and science fiction. His rooms seemed to draw from his bomb-shelter roots  and expressionist films, and Adam was the master of blending the industrial with traditional elegance. His worlds were a wonderful cocktail of opposites: DR. No's futuristic lair with its ornate, pompous furniture; the stainless steel and gunmetal mixed with wood and paper, the hand-crafted Aston DB5 with its lethal gadgets, and an ever-occuring dance of asymmetrical ceilings, circles, and triangles. I believe his contribution can be best observed in the moment in Dr. No when the baddie is brought to a small asymmetrical room to retrieve a poisonous spider in a cage. Adam was busily designing the sets while the crew was out in Jamaica shooting and he sometimes later expressed his anxiety about whether his ideas would work for the producers. But it was exactly his ideas which pitched the audience out of the ordinary world and created the Bond universe that has captivated us for so many years now. Below: Ken Adam with his wife in the 1960s, followed by some of his most notable designs from Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and Dr. Strangelove. I love looking at his marker drawings especially because he had such a flair for lighting and rendering surfaces. His concepts provided so much narrative atmosphere and he established a convention where our modern-day agents forever battle it out in a futuristic Caligari-world. Ken Adam was 95. 

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