Ken Adam, born as Klaus Hugo Adam in Berlin on February 5, 1921, fled Germany with his family in 1934; one year after power had been handed over to the Nazis. He went to England, and from 1938 to 1940 he studied architecture at the London Bartlett School. During WWII he enlisted in the Royal Air Force to fight the Nazis.
His film career began at the end of the 1940s when he started working as a drafter at the London Riverside Studios. He went on to gather experience as an assistant set decorator for films like Robert Siodmak's "The Crimson Pirate" (1952) or Guy Hamilton's "The Intruder" (1953). Between 1954 und 1960 he was the responsible set decorator for several films before he became production designer in 1956. Just one year later he earned his first Academy Award nomination for "Around the World in Eighty Days". Films like Robert Aldrich's "The Angry Hills" or Ken Hughes's "The Trials of Oscar Wilde" followed; both were sporting a production design with Adam's idiosyncratic look.
Adam eventually made his breakthrough with the first James Bond movie "Dr. No" (1962). He would leave his mark on the franchise for 17 years during which he developed original and impressive designs for "Goldfinger" (1964), "Thunderball" (1965), "You Only Live Twice" (1967), "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971), "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977) and "Moonraker" (1979; nominated for an Academy Award).
Beyond the 007 adventures Ken Adams created memorable sets as well: The "War Room" from Stanley Kubrick's satire "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964) left a mark on Ronald Reagan so strong that after his inauguration as President of the United States he asked to be shown the place. For his work on Kubrick's elaborate Thackeray adaptation "Barry Lyndon" (1976) and the period piece "The Madness of King George" (1995), Adam won an Oscar®. His other major works include the production design for the musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968), the crime comedy "Sleuth" (1972) and the black comedy "Addams Family Values" (1994). His last work in film to this day was the production design for István Szabó's drama "Taking Sides" (2001).
In 2002, Ken Adam was honored by the American Art Directors Guild with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Late in 2008, he became the first production designer to win the Lucky Strike Designer Award, again for his lifetime achievement. In 2012, Adam was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He also received a star along the "Boulevard der Stars", the German Walk of Fame in Berlin.
Ken Adam passed away in London on March 10, 2016.