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The absence of a “Bond Villain’s Lair” aesthetic in Spectre, the latest instalment in the James Bond franchise, reveals the disconcerting state of London’s corporate architecture, says Edwin Heathcote
There is a sub-genre of architecture that has become known as “Bond Villain’s Lair”. It’s a typology we all recognize – even though it might vary wildly from one production design to another, it nevertheless remains oddly familiar. It might be inside a crater on a mysterious island. It might be a John Lautner-esque house atop a concrete column or a Pierre Koenig-type villa cantilevered over a hillside. It might be a dark war-room like the one in Dr. Strangelove (not Bond, but the same designer, Ken Adam) or it might be an interior with very deep white shag carpets (to go with the cat) and a strangely sculptural fireplace. These are architectures that exist in a permanent retro-future, an ultra-modernism from the past. The Bond films were all about a glamorous view of a near future in which technology was sexier and villains used visionary modernism to express their desire for world domination.
Something has gone wrong since then. Spectre, the latest instalment in the Bond franchise, doesn’t employ the kind of modernism that saw Ken Adam act as a conduit between German expressionism and 60s pop. Instead the locations are grittier, more real. Sure, there’s a minimalist clinic (actually the Ice Q restaurant high in the Austrian Tyrol, designed by Johann Obermoser) but the real action takes place on the rooftops of Mexico City and the dark, deeply shadowed streets of London. Oddest of all is the new intelligence HQ – a tower dedicated to surveillance on the banks of the Thames. The design is truly horrible – like something a second-rate British commercial practice might design for Shanghai – yet also deeply credible in its proposed Vauxhall location. […]