The Best Of Ken Adam, The Legendary Set Designer Behind “007”

Adam helped create the worlds of James Bond, Dr. Strangelove, and more.

The best 007 movies starred more than James Bond, a super villain, and a Bond girl. They also starred the breathtaking sets of Ken Adam–who did more than anyone to establish the look of the 007 universe over the course of seven films. The Hollywood production designer, who also created the look of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dr. Strangelove‘s iconic War Room, died at age 95 last week, the New York Times reports.


Born in Berlin in 1921, Adam was inspired to go into set design after falling in love with German expressionist films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He later studied architecture at University College London, then the Bartlett School with an eye to enter set design, which he successfully did starting as a draughtsman working on the 1948 film, This Was A Woman.

Dr. No, 1962Columbia Pictures

Adam’s first job as a production designer was on the 1957 Jacques Tourneur film, Night of the Demon, an eerie film based upon M.R. James’s story Casting the Runes that still routinely gets voted one of the best horror movies of all time. But it was his work creating the exotic locations of the James Bond films starting at 1962’s Dr. No that cemented Adam’s fame. He designed the lairs and locales of James Bond’s best adventures, including the inside of Fort Knox in Goldfinger, the space station in Moonraker, and the volcano lair in You Only Live Twice.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964Sony/Columbia Industries Inc.

Adam also routinely worked with Stanley Kubrick. He created the triangular War Room in Dr. Strangelove, a set that Stephen Spielberg once claimed was the greatest movie set of all time. He later worked with Kubrick again on 1976’s Barry Lyndon, which won Adam an Oscar. He was also asked by Kubrick to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Adam turned the job down, saying that because of the team of technical and scientific advisors on board, “[t]here was no room for my imagination.”

Later credits include 1994’s The Madness of King George, 1993’s Addams Family Values, and 1999’s The Out-Of-Towners. He even has a credit as production designer on the 2004 James Bond game, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent. Asked about what excited him about his work, Adam once said: “As a production designer, you offer a form of escapism that is often more exciting than reality.” Well into his eighties, he lived his life to put those words into practice.

Escape into some of the exciting worlds Adam helped create in the slide show above.