Exploring the Secrets of Bond Villain Architecture with ‘Lair’ Author Chad Oppenheim

With the holidays upon us, it’s time to start searching for the perfect gift for the Bond fan in your life. And this year there’s no better choice than the stunning new book “Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains.” The brainchild of visionary architect and film lover Chad Oppenheim, “Lair” is a stylish tome that celebrates the hideouts, homes, and hidden compounds of the most diabolical masterminds in cinema history. Naturally, Bond villains are well represented within its black-edged pages.

Weighing an impressive five-and-a-half pounds, and packed to the brim with remarkable photographs, jaw-dropping architectural illustrations, never-before-seen renderings, and original interviews with acclaimed production designers and film directors, “Lair” is much more than the first scholarly study of its kind. Thanks to the handcrafted care and unsurpassed attention to detail that Tra Publishing has lavished on it, “Lair” is destined to become a much sought-after collector’s item. To put it even more succinctly, it’s the kind of book that would look right at home on Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s translucent coffee table next to his collapsible bridge and shimmering piranha pool.

Chad Oppenheim

“Lair” co-editor Chad Oppenheim is an award-winning Miami-based architect whose unique design work has been universally praised for its ability to transform the way we see the world. A graduate of Cornell University and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Oppenheim has taught and lectured at many of the most prestigious architecture schools on the planet, including Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In 1999, he founded Oppenheim Architecture, which is globally recognized for large-scale urban architecture, hotels, private residences, and furnishings.

I spoke with him recently about “Lair.” Here are some highlights from our conversation…

JAMES BOND RADIO: Before we discuss your new book, tell me a little bit about your introduction to the world of James Bond. What was the first 007 movie you saw?

CHAD OPPENHEIM: I was about eight years old, living in suburban New Jersey, and my father and I watched The Man with the Golden Gun together. It just blew my mind! I remember Scaramanga’s three nipples, Hervé Villechaize as the evil henchman, the incredible barrel roll car jump, and Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper as the film’s comic relief. Then, of course, there was Scaramanga’s amazing lair on that rocky island in Thailand. I particularly loved the way it was inserted into this gorgeous natural landscape. That movie pretty much set me off as a Bond fan, and from then on I looked forward to each new film in the series.

JBR: Which of the actors who’ve played Bond is your favorite?

CHAD: It’s probably controversial, but I’m a Roger Moore guy.

JBR: Me too!

CHAD: My mother considers that blasphemy because she’s such a Sean Connery fan, but I think your first Bond is your true love. Once you’ve seen an actor in the role for the first time, you never look at Bond the same way again. I mean, Connery is obviously cool, and Pierce Brosnan is a very talented actor, but as far as Daniel Craig is concerned, he doesn’t have any of the humor that I enjoyed from the tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore films. I’ve actually been revisiting a lot of the older Bond movies with my son who just turned eleven, and he’s definitely a Roger Moore fan as well.

JBR: Where did the idea for your new book come from?

CHAD: Well, I always thought it would be really cool to do something with all of these incredible lairs, because they’re just so interesting. Consciously and subconsciously, they really inspired me as an architect. I suppose I had the choice of either becoming an evil villain or becoming an architect and designing cool stuff like that, and I chose the latter.

JBR: This was a concept that you’d been thinking about for a long time, I guess.

CHAD: Yes, the idea for the book had been on my mind for many, many years, but it required a tremendous amount of resources in terms of time, energy, and collaborators to make it happen. I mean, we’ve had tons of people working on this book over the course of the entire project. There’s really a whole team involved, not just me, and it couldn’t have been done without any single one of them. I’m talking about artists, writers, editors, and lawyers. It was an incredibly intense project to get off the ground.

JBR: Can you give me a snapshot of what readers will find in the book?

CHAD: The book is by Tra Publishing, and my wife (Ilona Oppenheim) actually founded the company in 2016. Without her, this book simply wouldn’t exist. She was the one who responded to my idea and just ran with it. She put the team together and was just an incredible partner to have on the project. Her main passion is bookmaking, so the book itself is an amazing piece of art.

JBR: What do you mean by that?

CHAD: Well, it’s entirely black, and the ink is silver, which gives it a very cinematic quality. The edges are black. The paper is black. It’s just a really striking object to hold in your hands. Obviously, the subject matter is highly dramatic as well. When you dive into it, you’ll find an incredible amount of depth between its covers. There’s not just a few cool pictures inside. All of the drawings were created especially for the book, and they offer new ways of seeing these iconic lairs from different angles.

JBR: What can you tell me about the text?

CHAD: We’ve included a ton of fascinating background information on all the movies, plus interviews with award-winning production designers and directors. For example, we have a terrific interview with filmmaker Michael Mann, even though his work isn’t featured in the book. He was instrumental to me growing up as a child watching Miami Vice. There’s a lot of important material on architect John Lautner, who designed the houses seen in Diamonds Are Forever and Brian De Palma’s Body Double, included as well. You’ll find an incredible amount of detailed information inside, beyond just the wonderful pictures and cut-away drawings created by visual effects expert Carlos Fueyo. It’s really a treat for architecture and design lovers, but also film fans as well.

John Lautner

JBR: How did you decide which specific lairs to focus on?

CHAD: We did a lot of that decision-making by committee, then we edited the choices. The truth is, we probably could have concentrated exclusively on Bond lairs and Ken Adam’s 007 design work, but we ultimately decided to go for a more holistic vision rather than a narrowly focused approach. That type of diversity was important to us. Of course, some of the criteria was a bit idiosyncratic. For instance, Darth Vader’s official hangout is on this volcanic planet. It’s a horrible location, and although it’s an interesting lair architecturally, I wouldn’t want to go there, or even own a place like that. So, every lair that we included had to be a place that you’d actually want to inhabit or possess somehow.

JBR: It must’ve been difficult to narrow down the choices.

CHAD: Yes, there were a couple of places that I wanted to include, but they didn’t make it in. John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein house in Los Angeles, which was featured in The Big Lebowski, was one of them. The reason that one didn’t make the cut is because the character who owns it in the film wasn’t the real antagonist. He wasn’t an evil guy, he just did some bad things. We also considered Cameron’s father’s glass house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but again he wasn’t really a villain in that movie. He was just a lousy father and husband.

Back cover view

JBR: In your opinion, what are some of the essential design elements that make a classic villain’s lair?

CHAD: Well, secrecy and immersion in nature are two that immediately spring to mind. For me, incorporating nature is extremely relevant because that’s what my own work is about. I like the delicate cloaking element that nature provides, so maybe that’s why my architecture is often recessive. My buildings tend to be hidden in nature. They’re not about being evil, of course. They’re more about celebrating the beauty of nature. Those are the lairs I come back to again and again.

JBR: Can you give me an example of what you’re referring to?

CHAD: I’m talking about things like Scaramanga’s secret island compound in The Man with the Golden Gun, and Blofeld’s volcano fortress in You Only Live Twice. Atlantis in The Spy Who Loved Me plays around with that too, because it sits at the bottom of the sea. Each of those lairs really resonate with me. And you see similar elements in films like Ex Machina, where the villain’s home is quite immersive and only slightly visible in a beautiful natural landscape. Then you’ve got something like Mario Bava’s 1968 thriller Danger: Diabolik, where the lair is hidden in a cave, or Superman, where Lex Luthor’s hangout is hidden beneath Grand Central Station. These secretive elements add a lot to each lair. We also thought about including the Starkiller Base location from Star War: The Force Awakens, because it’s actually embedded within a planet. Architecturally, I thought it was quite interesting, but we decided to go with the original Death Star because it’s just so badass.

Blofeld’s volcano lair

JBR: You mentioned Blofeld’s volcano, which most Bond fans consider the highwater mark in terms of lairs. What is it about that lair that makes it so unforgettable?

CHAD: Very few things on earth are more powerful than a volcano. So, to harness that power and engage with it, and to literally occupy it, is just astounding. You see that lair and you can’t help but think, ‘Holy crap! This guy hangs out in a freakin’ volcano!’ The way that it opens up just makes it even more intense and dramatic. It’s so unexpected. Just the scale of it is truly awesome! It touches on something that I address in my own work, which is the idea of silent monumentality. It’s hidden, yet it’s also silent and massive. Obviously, everyone who worked on You Only Live Twice believed in its impact, because it was the largest and most expensive set ever created at the time.

JBR: You don’t see lairs like that anymore, even in the more recent Bond films.

CHAD: Well, Skyfall is interesting because the villain has this incredible island lair at his disposal, but it’s so disgusting and decayed. I mean, it’s very cool, but he should have had some nicer amenities!

JBR: I guess it’s supposed to reflect his inner corruption.

CHAD: Oh, definitely.

Stromberg’s Atlantis lair

JBR: Stromberg’s undersea Atlantis in The Spy Who Loved Me is another legendary lair, even though it’s primarily a miniature model. What are your thoughts on that location?

CHAD: Funnily enough, I’ve been working on a confidential design project, and I didn’t even realize that I was channeling Atlantis until I was doing research for the book. Suddenly it hit me like, ‘Oh my God! That’s where that idea came from!’ What’s so interesting about Atlantis is the scale of it. It’s just incredibly large, although in reality the model was much smaller. It’s an enormous anthropomorphic structure, and you can’t really appreciate its size until you see a boat or a helicopter next to it. Of course, you also have this baroque interior as well, which almost looks like Downton Abbey. The juxtaposition is fascinating. I mean, people are being dropped into shark tanks, there’s Mozart music playing, and the paintings rise automatically to reveal secret windows. It couldn’t be more dramatic. There’s even a fireplace under water! Subtleties like that aren’t lost on me, I can assure you.

JBR: Have you toured the Elrod House from Diamonds Are Forever?

CHAD: Unfortunately, I haven’t. We’ve actually been trying to do some sort of book-related event there, but it’s currently under renovation. I love how the rocks and boulders are part of that house. It’s like they’ve penetrated the interior somehow. Also, the way that it opens up, and how the pool comes in, is very important.

JBR: Finally, have you ever snuck a little Bond Easter-egg into one of the spectacular structures that you’ve designed and built?

CHAD: I don’t think they’re that Easter-eggy, to be honest! The Bond elements are fairly overt! Unbeknownst to even me, sometimes.

To order copies of “Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains,” visit the book’s Amazon page.

Matthew Chernov

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