The villain’s lair and other war rooms, for some architectures shapes of terror and control: James Bond, the Eames and Bin Laden. By: Gonzalo Pedro Carrasco Purull + Livni.
The Guardian newspaper – in its issue of May 4 – Steve Rose did notice how far that was the death of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden of the images that the West over the past 50 years had used about how to wear the villain’s lair. At his home in Abbottabad (Pakistan), Bin Laden was killed in an atmosphere nothing away from the sophisticated and stylized scenes from a James Bond movie. In Abbottabad there were no underground tunnels, platforms and launch nuclear missiles or giant screens and Bond girls. In Abbottabad however, there was a fence, a wall peeling and a few goats grazing nearby.
The disappointment expressed by Steve Rose reveals how far we are influenced by the images we have of evil. Images that are not born from nothing, but are subject to an historically accurate. Why even have authors, materiality and architecture. Architecture which have helped build the way that the twentieth century gave the terror.
Under the Volcano.
Ken Adam was born in Berlin in 1921, with the name of Klaus Hugo Adam. Son of the owner of the most famous sports store in Berlin, Adam and his family – members of the Berlin Jewish community – emigrated to England in 1933 to escape from the Nazis.
Once in London, Adam studied architecture for three years. That was until war is declared, at which time he joined the Royal Air Force, becoming the only German driver in the service. Coming to engage with the RAF`s 609 squadron of the board of his Hawker Typhoo at the Battle of Normandy. Heini – which was his nickname of combat – once the war ends, finds work as a draftsman in the production team of the 1947 film “This was a Woman.” Adam thus began his career as a production designer, a profession that just came into existence after the work done by William Cameron Menzies for the movie “Gone With the Wind” in 1938.
However, the leap in her career would take place in 1961 to participate in the design of the production of Terence Young’s film “Dr. No “, the first of the series of James Bond movies. Participation where Ken Adam established the elements that marked on his personal style. Adam style that would account the age that saw the birth of these films. A strong relationship to a Zeitgeist, which links this artist with studios in architecture, with one of the main speeches of modern architecture. Thus, as Ken Adam like Mies, will appeal to a contemporary technology and materials are indebted to the spirit of his time:
“What I felt at that time – we`re talking about ´61 – was that I couldn´t remember seeing a film that reflected the age we were living in. Computers were there, electronic things…I called in everyone from the Construction Department at Pinewood and said, “bring me materials that are new on the market”. And they were fantastic. Everything you wanted, people would get. And that inspired me, so I could really dream and let my imagination go.”
Overflow imagination that by 1967, when Ken Adam would create one of its most ambitious projects: the lair of SPECTRE for the Bond film series “You Only Lived Twice”. A design involving the use of 250 artists working seven days a week for six months. In what became the largest set built in Britain.
Ken Adam noted that the idea of designing the villain’s lair in an extinct volcano, came after weeks in which the production team visited the Japanese coast in search of the ideal location. Flying over the area of Kyushu, about eight volcanoes found in close proximity, side by side. That’s when Ken Adam came to the idea of locating the platform of nuclear missile launch – according to the text of Ian Fleming would be responsible for the third world war – inside the volcano. With a diameter of 120 meters, a height of approximately 36 meters, a sliding cover 21 meters in diameter and the use of more than 700 tons of steel, set beneath the volcano would help build the image of the ways you can adopting the contemporary terror where nothing is as it looks. A world dominated by the pretense and deception, where on earth can hide weapons of mass destruction unthinkable. A world where the mere suspicion of the existence of this hidden power, justifies the mobilization of entire armies. A contemporary form of terror, for which Ken Adam was assigned its own architecture. An architecture of terror called a “mirror” the most sophisticated of its time. In a way, as described by Ken Adam himself:
“So I said I would start experimenting with materials which we had never seen on the screen until then, like cooper, stainless steel, and slighty futuristic tongue-in-cheek designs to give the script a certain panache, and at the same time to express the age we were living in.”
A time that Ken Adam’s own designs help build. Picture a world without which subsequent events could be understood, as were the reports on the alleged weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was hiding – and that was the main argument to justify the entry of American troops into Iraq – a fact years later denied. Or more recently, speculation about Taliban hiding in the mountains of Tora-Bora, are all facts that arise from the certainty that within each mountain, volcano or island, you can hide the terror, the villain’s lair.
In 1981, the newly elected President Ronald Reagan was invited to visit the offices of the Pentagon with the head of their team advisor, James Baker. As the tour ended, Reagan – who was 16 years off-screen – Baker missed asks why have not shown the “war room.” To which Baker explains that this would not exist except on film.
The film to which Baker was referring was the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb “by director Stanley Kubrick, and which also involved Ken Adam as a production designer.
It was for this movie where the Ken Adam designed his set would be more famous – and one of the most famous in film history – as was the “war room” where the U.S. president – played by Peter Sellers – along with his generals, was played the fate of a world on the brink of WWIII.
For its design, Adam was based on the geometric form more stable and robust: the triangle. This form is the section that defines a room that had a size that doubled the size of the theaters where the movie was screened. Built of reinforced concrete, the “war room” looking forward to the atmosphere of an air-raid shelter of colossal dimensions.
Within this set, and as the main element, highlighting the presence of a giant circular table. A design inspired by the atmosphere generated in a poker game. An association of ideas was very important for Kubrick himself, which he liked to see these statesmen playing the fate of the world as if they were cards in a poker game. A link to a game where not always win playing cleaner. Where you can wager, win everything, losing everything, pretending to have good cards (bluff) or cheating. The atmosphere is enhanced by the comprehensive study conducted by Kubrick and Adam about the lighting set. For which – and like a poker table – the actors’ faces are illuminated by light reflected on a table very bright. A strategy that helped shape the claustrophobic environment particularly within the “war room.” A set in darkness, where the only thing that stands out is the strong circular shape of the table and giant screens showing the inexorable progress of nuclear warheads from one side of the planet.
The design developed by Ken Adam for the “war room” did not exist until then. Disappointed by the little films that were the offices of American Air Defense Center, Adam creates a reality “more real than life itself.” Where life spills into the hype, overcoming, as paradoxical as it may seem, appear more convincing than reality. A set of masks and drills to be repeated in the film – also in 1964 – “Goldfinger.” In which – and the design of Fort Knox, Adam created a coherent world in itself, which has no real grip with the building, except with the definition of a certain atmosphere of what could be classified as “sinister “. Thus Adam recalls the origin of the design for the Fort Knox:
“I was allowed to look at the outside of Fort Knox. I remember flying in a helicopter around the outside and it was quite frightening, because there was this rather pedestrian art deco building, but it was sinister because there were guards, there were machine-guns all over the roof, and there were loud-taller messages “don´t approach any closer than that!” and so on. And of course I wasn´t allowed inside Fort Knox, and I delighted about it, because I feel that because of the weight of gold, and having seen the vaults of the Bank of England in London, I knew that it would be very uninteresting cinematically – gold is never stacked higher than this, and it`s in vaults, and the audience wants to see gold – in the biggest gold depository in the world.”
This is how Ken Adam designed a set of enormous dimensions, where it appears a material – gold – exhibited beyond the physical laws. A material that due to its excessive weight, it would be impossible to be stacked up to reach 15 and 20 meters high, as shown in the design of Adam. However, this design inspired by the interiors of Piranesi’s prisons and on the stages of German Expressionism, is that it becomes more real than your own Fort Knox. This Adam realizes himself, who relates that after the release of Goldfinger, the offices of United Artist arrived between 200 and 300 letters of exasperated spectators who did not understand how could a British film was shot inside Fort Knox being that even the U.S. president himself was allowed entry. Once again the designs of Ken Adam exceeded reality, becoming a hyper-reality.
Boys Scouts in Moscow.
Ken Adam’s design for the “war room” of “Dr. Strangelove ” would soon become the model for control rooms worldwide. From the halls of U.S. military control of the McNamara era – the era of “command and control” – to the central command of the Apollo missions, the “war room” is an essential part of the culture of the Cold War. A time where – and with villains that could hide nuclear arsenals under the extinct volcanoes – the only way I could “free world” to defend itself against terror, was the administration and control of reality. And hence the utility had the “war room” in the sixties, where decisions could be taken from the determination of a control center, located in a safe place, sanctuary, where you could decide on made from data being processed by computers, the results were then beamed through giant screens. In an always mediated control, based on representations of reality, where what appeared on the screen was real. Made without possibility of verification or corroboration from the senses. If it was consistent on the screen, had to be true.
One area of hyper-reality that will mark the advent of mass media on a global level. The “war room” – as the control center des-located – mass reach its overall employment from the tele-control systems. Thus, a thin wire connected to the “war room” designed by Ken Adam with the interior of all our control rooms found in the security departments of the mall, in traffic control centers, within the supermarkets and condominiums.
If on one hand the “war room” functions as a de-located eye exercising control off-site on which it acts in the same period a group of architects to build its mirror image.
“Glimpses of the USA” was commissioned by the U.S. State Department to be in Moscow in 1959 as part of a cultural exchange between the two powers. The design of the entire sample was under the responsibility of George Nelson, who traveled to California to convince Charles and Ray Eames to come up with a film that portrays a day in the life in the United States. The project also was assisted by film director Billy Wilder and Jack Macey – coordinator of design and construction of the U.S. Information Agency – who along with Nelson traveled to the Eames house to coordinate all aspects of the exhibition.
The Eames arrived in Moscow on the eve of the inauguration, personally carrying rolls of film, which was shown inside the dome designed by Buckminster Fuller for Moscow. The presentation of the Eames was the location of seven screens that hung from the dome of Fuller. Projected screens where 2,200 images simultaneously in a span of 12 minutes. These images – only some of them moving – illustrating fragments of everyday life in America. An assembly through which the Eames tried to show in this “situation room”, an America built from fragments, pieces born from the everyday, ordinary.
While writers such as Beatriz Colomina have wanted to see in “Glimpses of the USA”, a link to the “control room” or “war rooms”, both are devices that respond to entirely different purposes. While the display in the “war room” is an eye de-located monitoring and control – where the reality is consistent in its “completeness” – in “Glimpses of the USA” the reality is splintered, shattered, fragments fleeting instant, at different scales, which make impossible the rebuilding of a world seen as a whole.
Where yes Eames were associated with the “war room” was mainly through the use of gigantism and some claustrophobic atmosphere similar to that generated in the designs of Ken Adam. It calls our attention to the series of photographs which appear Eames against the model of their “situation room”, which highlights the scale representation of the audience, without which the model lost all reference to the mounting dimensions . A disproportionate to the scale was increased by the size of the fragments – almost exclusively close-ups – which were exhibited in Moscow. Where the smile of Marilyn Monroe taken from Billy Wilder film “Some Like It Hot”, flying over the heads of some Muscovites for whom Marilyn was just a beautiful woman who would smile. An overflow of the scale explored by the same Eames in his celebrated 1968 film “Power of Ten” (http://youtu.be/0fKBhvDjuy0). In which not only the world – but the entire solar system and sub-atomic world – are adjustments to an image of completeness that escaped verification through the senses. Again, if the screen was consistent, had to be real.
And that in years far away from Google Earth.
This is how the villain’s lair cannot be understood without its counter-image, the “war room.” A dual relationship without which one cannot understand many of the contemporary manifestations of terror. Both images possess their own architecture. Forms which have increased even up to the comics and children’s television series, as is the case of the “Superfriends” and “Hall of Justice.” A place – whose architecture is inspired in part by the building of the Cincinnati Union Terminal – where information on the movements of the villain are controlled from giant screens located within an area of exaggerated size. Where decisions are settled far from where it will act later – the villain’s lair – around a giant circular table. A locus of control, monitoring and resolution, with a number of mechanisms for mediation – screens, lights that turn on and off – and acts as a counterpart to the villain’s lair, usually hidden inside a volcano, in the depths of adopting a desert island or less predictable ways. A formalization of control and terror generated since the Cold War and that accounts for a bipolar world, deeply Manichean. Good and evil, we and they, all codes of a Cold War that refuses to disappear.
The day they issued the death of Osama Bin Laden, circulated a photograph showing President Obama with his minister Hillary Clinton met with his advisers. Appear before a table full of reports, laptop and paper cups. It’s a fairly small room with a standard height ceiling. Besides the president and his minister, is in the room ten people. The room is full, there is even a young woman who stands on tiptoe to see over the shoulder of a companion too high. Everyone is looking at a point outside the frame of the camera. By the expressions on the faces of Obama and Hillary follows that what you are witnessing – on a screen? – Is something that causes concern and – above all in the gesture of Hillary – fear, which is one of the forms that the uncanny, the terror. The images we see – and most likely never will not – may be those recorded by miniature cameras that each of the Marines usually carries in his combat helmet. What may cause as much fear in Hillary is probably happening to thousands of miles away in some remote part of Pakistan. An eye des-located control, which transmits satellite snapshots from the villain’s lair. Mediated eye, powerless, translated into pure data. An encoding of reality, coherent and therefore “real”, at least on the screen.
But the general sitting at the center – the only one not watching the screen – for whom the reality of the “war room” has reached its consistency. Coherence given by the translation of what is happening in front of them in pure data, pure information.
And for that kind of terror we have no architecture yet. VKPK.