Ken Adam Moonraker

A new book traces the work of iconic production designer Ken Adam

The Ken Adam Archive explores the late designer’s illustrious career, taking readers on a journey from his first film in 1948 to his last in 1987

Taschen has released its first ever book dedicated to the work of a production designer, looking at the expansive practice of the late German-British Ken Adam.

The luxury limited edition title – there are just 1,200 copies available, each priced at £850 – was eight years in the making and conceived with Adam himself, who has signed each copy. The book contains an “unmatched wealth of material” from his archives, which include set designs for various films from the James Bond series, the iconic car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the infamous war room beneath the Pentagon that featured in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

This archival material, which totals over 5,600 drawings, as well as photos and films that Adam took as part of his research for each project, was donated in 2012 to the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, his city of birth and the home he was forced to leave behind in 1933, as pre-war tensions began to rise.

Ken Adam Spy Who Loved Me
Top: Sketch for the James Bond film Moonraker; Above: Concept sketch for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me
From the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me
Ken Adam Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Final designs and drawings for the racing car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Working in collaboration with the Deutsche Kinemathek, cultural historian and long-time friend of Adam’s, Christopher Frayling, curated a selection of the designer’s most influential work. As such, the featured projects are just a taste of Adam’s substantial oeuvre, giving readers an insight into his enduring legacy.

“Few production designers have created worlds as all-embracing and expressive as Ken Adam. For more than 70 films he dreamed up spaces whose captivating nature has branded its way into filmgoers’ memories,” writes Rainer Rother in the book’s introduction. “They were always devised and developed in full consideration of how they could be filmed, and with a knowledge of camera positioning and lighting. Ken Adam never regarded his creations as mere representations of reality, however; for his worlds he transformed, heightened and exaggerated.”

Formatted in chronological order, The Ken Adam Archive takes readers in great detail through these worlds, which are split into four main sections: The James Bond Films, The Stanley Kubrick Films, The Herbert Ross Films, and finally, A Life in Production Design, which covers the rest of his oeuvre.

Ken Adam You Only Live Twice
Concept sketch for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice
Ken Adam You Only Live Twice
From the James Bond film You Only Live Twice
Ken Adam Goldfinger
Concept sketch for the James Bond film Goldfinger

In each, the reader is presented with some of Adam’s beautifully intricate sketches and drawings, alongside stills from the films that show how these plans came to life on set. Alongside the films that went into production are also some of Adam’s unrealised projects, which never saw the light of day.

Looking through this staggering amount of work, what stands out is that Adam always gave his all, regardless of the film’s status or budget, or the prominence of the director. His vision is constantly clear, concise, creative and ambitious, and it soon becomes obvious why he left such an indelible mark on his craft, his industry and, more widely, the history of cinema.

The Ken Adam Archive is published by Taschen;