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Lairs, war rooms and palaces

Famous production designer Sir Ken Adam designed the iconic sets for films like Dr Strangelove and Goldfinger. A retrospective at the Deutsche Kinemathek covers his life and work, including his Berlin childhood. See it before it closes May 17.

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The Dr. Strangelove war room inverted

What do Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, the James Bond flick Goldfinger and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor have in common? Their iconic sets were designed by the famous production designer Sir Ken Adam, whose four-decade career is honoured in the retrospective Bigger than Life: Ken Adam’s Film Design at the Deutsche Kinemathek at Potsdamer Platz until May 17. Whether it was gigantic command centres, underground conference rooms or massive submarine bases, Adam had an incomparable talent for designing futuristic structures of megalomaniac proportions where Bond villains would mastermind their evil schemes (Stromberg’s amphibious hideout “Atlantis” in The Spy Who Loved Me) and paranoid US officials would casually contemplate nuclear war (the Pentagon war room in Dr. Strangelove). In one section of the exhibition, an installation by Boris Hars-Tschachotin involves a 93-year-old Adam re-creating that legendary nuclear bomb-proof room on screen before your eyes. But Adam, who had trained to be an architect in London, also made use of his knowledge in art history to design the Addams’ Gothic mansion in Addams Family Values and the magnificence of the Chinese imperial palace in The Last Emperor.

In the fourth section of the exhibition, named “Berlin and London”, we experience the famous designer’s Berlin childhood. Born Klaus Hugo Adam in a 1921 to a wealthy family of Jewish fashion retailers in the German capital, he and his family fled Nazi persecution in 1934, finding refuge in London. In 2012, the by-then knighted Sir Ken Adam bequeathed his entire oeuvre of some 4000 sketches, and many memorabilia and documents, to the Deutsche Kinemathek as a gesture of reconciliation with his city of birth. The collection should be available online within the year. 

BIGGER THAN LIFE. KEN ADAM’S FILM DESIGN Through May 17 | Deutsche Kinemathek, Potsdamer Str. 2, Tiergarten, S+U-Bhf Potsdamer Platz. Tue-Sun 10-18, Thu 10-20 

Originally published in issue #135, February 2015