CINEOPOLIS — The Lure of the Lair: An Interview with Architect Chad Oppenheim

Episode 105 of CINEOPOLIS explores the Lure of the Lair through an interview with architect and co-author of Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains, Chad Oppenheim…

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When is the last time you thought about where a movie took place? The rooms, cities, and architecture where movies are set are just as important as the script, actors, and special effects, yet we rarely give locations and sets their due. It’s high time that conversation began to change. CINEOPOLIS is a podcast, hosted by film historian Christian Niedan and editor and culture journalist Dante A. Ciampaglia, about movies — and the places that made them. Through deep dives into movies and filmmakers and discussions with professionals, critics, and authors, CINEOPOLIS will change how you see movies…and the world around you. Over the ten episodes that comprise this inaugural season, Christian and Dante will be your guides on a journey into the rooms, cities, and architecture where movies are set through thorough examinations into films and filmmakers.

When Chad Oppenheim saw his first Bond film — The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), on some early home video format — he knew he “either wanted to be an evil villain or an architect.” He ultimately opted for architect (a good choice), and in 1999 founded Oppenheim Architecture + Design, which has designed projects around the world, from hotels (like the Pixar-themed sections of Shanghai Disney Resorts) to homes (like Michael Bay’s Los Angeles residence) to public projects (like the new pavilion at Miami’s Simpson Park Hammock). And while none of Oppenheim’s projects have been used as bases of villainy, there’s a clear line from his firm’s projects back to the kinds of cinematic bad guy hangouts that made such an impression on young Chad: direct integration into and inspiration from nature; strong impressions of modernism, postmodernism; a sneaky exterior minimalism that opens up to a kind of tasteful interior maximalism. Think John Lautner by way of Frank Lloyd Wright and Michael Mann and you’ll get a sense of Oppenheim’s aesthetic.

Still, movie evildoers have never been far from Oppenheim’s thoughts. And in 2019, he co-wrote with Andrea Gollin the book Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains, a coffee-table-sized survey of some of the best, most enduring, and architecturally interesting bad guy hideouts in movie history. The lineup is eclectic and, often, unexpected: the Vandamm House from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; Lautner’s Malin Residence, also known as the Chemisphere, which was used Brian De Palma’s Body Double; Syndrome’s lair in The Incredible; the first Death Star; plenty of Bond hideouts, naturally. Lair is entertaining and thoughtful, with excellent schematic drawings by visual effects expert Carlos Fueyo. It’s also one of those books that makes you wonder, “How did no one do this before?!”

This week, Dante asks Chad that question as they dig into Lair, Oppenheim’s interest in the subject and how it impacts his architecture, and the enduring lure of where cinema villains live.

For more about the book, check out Dante’s story from the launch of Lair published by Metropolis in 2019. And definitely spend time digging through Oppenheim Architecture’s Instagram account for images and explorations of its work.

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