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SIS Building

The SIS Building or MI6 Building at Vauxhall Cross houses the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, MI6), the United Kingdom’s foreign intelligence agency. It is located at 85 Albert Embankment in Vauxhall, a south western part of central London, on the bank of the River Thames beside Vauxhall Bridge. The building has been the headquarters of the SIS since 1994.

The site on which the SIS building stands had been the location of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 19th century. Farrell’s design for the SIS building was influenced by 1930s industrial modernist architecture such as Bankside and Battersea Power Stations and Mayan and Aztec religious temples. The site is rumoured to include a tunnel from the building to Whitehall.

The numerous layers over which the building is laid out create 60 separate roof areas. 25 different types of glass were used in the building, with 130,000 square feet (12,000 m2) of glass and aluminium used in the building’s construction. The windows in the SIS building are triple glazed for security purposes. Due to the sensitive nature of MI6’s work, large parts of the building are below street level, with numerous underground corridors serving the building. Amenities for staff include a sports hall, gymnasium, aerobics studio, a squash court and a restaurant. The building also features two moats for protection.

The SIS building was positively critiqued by Deyan Sudjic in The Guardian in 1992 who described it as an “epitaph for the architecture of the eighties”. Sudjic wrote that “It’s a design which combines high seriousness in its classical composition with a possible unwitting sense of humour. The building could be interpreted equally plausibly as a Mayan temple or a piece of clanking art deco machinery”, and added that the most impressive thing about Farrell’s design was the way he had not “confined himself to a single idea” as the building “grows and develops as you move around it”. In their 2014 Guide to London’s Contemporary Architecture, Kenneth Allinson and Victoria Thornton wrote that “Some see this building as Farrell’s most controlled and mature building – a rich diet, certainly, but not a cacophony of rhetorical features, nor without the unselfconscious virtuosity which can uplift and excite. But it is undoubtedly too Gotham City for the taste of many. Farrell’s many critics and opponents…would call it a nightmare: a secret service fortress, provided by a private speculator, designed by an avowed populist, and sited on a most prominent river location. Indubitably, it is a bizarre phenomenon”. Feargus O’Sullivan on the other hand mentioned the nickname “Ceaușescu Towers” for the building, referring to the oversized pompous architecture of Socialist Romania, and derided the whole neighbourhood of newly constructed buildings in Vauxhall as “Dubai-on-Thames”

James Bond films

Vauxhall Cross has featured in several recent James Bond films. The building was first featured in Goldeneye in 1995 and was depicted as having been attacked in The World Is Not Enough (1999), Skyfall (2012), and Spectre (2015). For The World Is Not Enough a 50-foot-high (15-metre) model of the building was constructed at Pinewood Studios. A special premiere of The World Is Not Enough was held at Vauxhall Cross for MI6 staff, who cheered when their headquarters was destroyed in the film. Filming for the twenty-fourth Bond film, Spectre, took place on the Thames near Vauxhall Cross in May 2015.

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