A tribute to James Bond at a dizzying height
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)
Nail-biting action scenes and stunningly beautiful locations are highlights of every James Bond film. In the blockbuster ‘Spectre’, Ice Q, the unique gourmet restaurant located on Gaislachkogl Mountain in Sölden, Austria, furnished the backdrop for a futuristic clinic and delighted filmgoers with its tremendous architecture and spectacular glass façade. Now the restaurant has been joined by a world’s first at an altitude of over 3,000 metres. 007 Elements is a cinematic installation in which everything revolves around the world of James Bond. The exhibition is situated in a building designed and built by the architectural firm of obermoser arch-omo zt gmbh within the interior of Gaislachkogl Mountain in Sölden. 007 Elements accompanies visitors on a journey through a series of interactive high-tech galleries that revolve around the trademark and all the classic elements of a James Bond film. Johann Obermoser tells us how he was able to realise this architectural highlight in an alpine context.
Mr Obermoser, how did the idea for a James Bond museum come about?
In December 2013, Emma Pill, location scout for ‘Spectre’, the 24th Bond instalment, discovered the Sölden glacier and the alpine gourmet restaurant ‘Ice Q’, which we had designed a few years previously and realised on the glacier, where it is anchored in the permafrost. The modern design of ‘Ice Q’ was a decisive factor in bringing James Bond to Sölden. The natural high alpine landscape here is breathtaking.
Jakob ‘Jack’ Falkner, Managing Director of the Sölden mountain lifts, concluded a framework agreement with the Bond production company EON (Everything Or Nothing) that not only covered the film shooting in winter 2014 but also laid the groundwork for innovative re-use once work on the film was finished. Our architectural firm, obermoser arch-omo zt gmbh, was already familiar with the situation and factors involved in building in such an exposed location on Gaislachkogl Mountain. And Jack Falkner then commissioned us to design the concept for a Bond installation.
Are you personally a 007 fan? Which is your favourite film?
Of course I’ve been a fan of the Bond films ever since I was a child. I was particularly fascinated by the winter chase scenes, the spectacular sets by Sir Ken Adam – and, of course, the timeless cars. My absolute favourites are: ‘You Only Live Twice’ and ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.
What or who inspired you to come up with this design?
The key ideas behind the design were the spatial concept and the materiality. Both were deliberately developed in close affinity to the Bond design. We began by studying the work of film architect Sir Kenneth Adam, who in the 1960s and 1970s created masterful set designs for several James Bond films that featured monumental, austere, cool and dramatic settings. The architecture is designed to capture the Bond genre and its history while at the same time creating and enframing the visual linkage to the spectacular film locations of Spectre in the high alpine landscape. The materiality was kept very scaled-back and was limited to three elements: concrete, glass and steel. This permitted a deliberate staging of cool, unadorned and hard design elements. We were in search of materials that would embody the archaic power of the surroundings and represent the modern aesthetics of the Bond brand.
Did you already have a vision or concrete image of your idea of the museum in mind when you began work on the concept?
When we designed the concept for 007 Elements, we were in search of a monumental architecture, a gesture that would be an embodiment of our era. We wanted to create an ambivalent location in which visitors could experience the manifold reality of James Bond. The first architectural study had staged spectacular spatial sequences with visual connections to the film locations of ‘Spectre’. But the geological conditions of the location forced us to come up with further alternative solutions. The final design solution incorporated ‘mountain interior’ and ‘iceberg principle’ themes. Then, working from the original creative concept, this resulted in seven freely shaped architectural elements made of concrete that were situated within the mountain.
How were partners from the James Bond film production involved?
As I mentioned, Jack Falkner entrusted us with the conceptual design and development of the Bond installation. We then cultivated a process of open interaction with curators Neal Callow, Creative and Art Director for the last four Bond films, and Tino Schaedler, Head of Design of the creative agency Optimist Inc. The main aim was to capture the substantive philosophy of James Bond in the installation.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during construction?
At a height of 3,040 m, permafrost is the rule: this frozen conglomerate of rock – constantly in motion and dependent on fluctuations in temperature – is a demanding foundation on which to build things. So we used rear-ventilated strip footings to provide natural protection of the frozen ground, and to prevent any thermal transfer. Dynamic cuffs flexibly connect the concrete cubes to permit continuous adaptation to the constantly changing substrate. Geological fault lines, the exposed location at the summit, the extreme weather conditions and, hence, the shortened construction time available to us posed great challenges in terms of the actual construction work. The construction workers were able to work without interruption for no longer than a few weeks at a time at altitude, and this meant a constant rotation of our teams. This was confounded by the fact that it was the worst winter of the past 15 years. Snowfall had already begun in July. Later on, storms and massive snowfall kept vehicles from entering the construction site, and during the final phase concrete had to be delivered by helicopter.
Under the heading of sustainability: What was done to protect the very sensitive alpine natural environment during construction?
Our daily architectural practice is located in the heart of the Alps, in Tyrol. We feel a connection to our surroundings, and our approach to work is based on responsibility for sustainability. With the help of the strip footings, for instance, we were able to make the building ‘hover’ above the permafrost ground. This permits naturally driven ventilation: cold air is drawn in on the north side and blown out again to the west and east. This prevents a transfer of heat to the ground. Heating and air conditioning were omitted as well – and this promotes a more conscious awareness of the natural elements and the high alpine climate in the interior of the structure. Alternative energy sources were used to resolve extreme temperature fluctuations between the inside and outside.
Architecture is always situated in the specific context for which it was designed. This is why the fascination is tied to the surroundings. The relationship with a particular environment is one of our most important sources of inspiration. The excitement of design comes about together with the context that architecture intends to inhabit.
Is the museum mainly aimed at ‘Spectre’, or is tribute paid to more vintage Bond films here?
The museum presents a dynamic sequence of all of 007’s mountain adventures. Each room houses unique installations and exhibits on the many adventures of 007, and naturally ‘Spectre’ forms a focal point here at the original location where the film was shot. The monumentally designed interior spaces have been divided into categories for the purpose. They run the gamut and showcase the art departments, props, costumes, special effects, visual effects, stunts and locations of the past 60 years of James Bond.
The museum is one of the highest-altitude museums in the world. Reinhold Messner, for example, commissioned Zaha Hadid with the design of his most recent Messner Mountain Museum high up in the mountains. Is there currently a trend under way towards architecture in the alpine context?
An increasing trend in the alpine setting is the accessibility of mountain summits. As a result, demand for discerning projects in the alpine environment has increased significantly, as has the demand for state-of-the-art mountain lift technology. Successful architectural examples in alpine terrain become landmarks and drive recognition of a region and its local economies. Growing interest on the part of the media and reports on architectural highlights confirm and promote this trend. Tourism resorts in the Ötztal Alps benefit enormously from the range of response that such contemporary landmarks are generating.
What is your personal highlight in the museum – apart from the building itself?
Because 007 Elements is an interactive, cinematic installation, the experience more closely resembles a film than a museum in the traditional sense of the term. The visitor experiences an exhibition unlike conventional installations – an exhibition in which conflicting realities can coexist, in which present and futuristic, virtual worlds fuse with one another. And of course the unique location, at 3,040 metres above sea level, is a highlight, as are the breathtaking natural surroundings and the dramatic changes in climate.
Johann Obermoser is founder of obermoser arch-omo zt gmbh, an innovative, creative architectural firm that focussing on experimental architecture, sustainable urban development and design. Its services comprise general planning, feasibility studies, tender analyses and controlling.
Picture credit © Kristopher Grunert