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SIS Building

SIS Building

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The SIS Building, also commonly known as the MI6 Building, is the headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service
Secret Intelligence Service
The Secret Intelligence Service is responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence. Alongside the internal Security Service , the Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence Intelligence , it operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence...

 (otherwise known as "MI6"). It is known within the intelligence community as Legoland and also as "Babylon-on-Thames" due to its resemblance to an ancient Babylonian ziggurat
Ziggurat
Ziggurats were massive structures built in the ancient Mesopotamian valley and western Iranian plateau, having the form of a terraced step pyramid of successively receding stories or levels.Notable ziggurats include the Great Ziggurat of Ur near Nasiriyah, Iraq; the Ziggurat of Aqar Quf near...

. It is located at 85, Albert Embankment
Albert Embankment
The Albert Embankment is a stretch of the river bank on the south side of the River Thames in Central London. It stretches approximately one mile northward from Vauxhall Bridge to Westminster Bridge, and is located in the London Borough of Lambeth.Albert Embankment is also the name given to the...

 in the south western part of central London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, on the bank of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 beside Vauxhall Bridge
Vauxhall Bridge
Vauxhall Bridge is a Grade II* listed steel and granite deck arch bridge in central London. It crosses the River Thames in a south–east north–west direction between Vauxhall on the south bank and Pimlico on the north bank...

.

Design and construction



The building was designed by Terry Farrell
Terry Farrell (architect)
Sir Terry Farrell, CBE, RIBA, FRSA, FCSD, MRTPI is a British architect.-Life and career:Farrell was born in Sale, Cheshire. As a youth he moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he attended St Cuthbert's High School. He graduated with a degree from Newcastle University, followed by a Masters in urban...

 and built by John Laing . The developer Regalian Properties
Regalian Properties
Pegalian Properties plc is a British property development company. It was the developer of the SIS Building near Vauxhall Bridge....

 approached the government in 1987 to assess their interest in the proposed building. At the same time, MI6's sister service MI5
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 was seeking alternative accommodation and collocation of the two organisations was considered. This proposal was ultimately abandoned due to the lack of buildings of adequate size (existing or proposed) and the security considerations of providing a single target for attacks. In July 1988 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 approved the purchase of the new building for the SIS. The government proposed to pay for the building outright in order to maintain secrecy over the intended use of the site — at this time the existence of MI6 was not officially acknowledged.

History of the site


The site was previously the location of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. These were swept away in the 1850s and replaced by mainly industrial units, including a glass factory, a vinegar works and a gin distillery.

The land was eventually bought by Regalian Properties Plc. in 1983. The architect Terry Farrell won the competition to develop a building on the site - originally an urban village. Gradually the development changed to become an office block scheme and with a government agency as the final occupier, the application for offices was accepted.

Regalian were unaware that the final occupier would be SIS who needed to move from their HQ in Lambeth, Century House, as they had outgrown it and also needed a modern building to accommodate new technology and IT connectivity.

Construction and architecture


Farrell's influences for Vauxhall Cross speak of 1930s architecture (Battersea and Bankside power stations) and Mayan and Aztec temples. Regalian issued a press release in February 1989 stating that the building had been sold for £130 million and that construction was to take three years. During excavation of the site, the remains of seventeenth century glass kilns, three barge houses and an inn (The Vine) came to light and there was evidence of a river wall.

Layers of decks rising from the river produce no fewer than 60 separate roof areas. 12,000 square metres of glass and aluminium covering the six perimeter and internal atria were installed - the glass may look homogeneous but 25 different types were required to meet specific needs in all parts of the building. Even the doors were specially designed.

Vauxhall Cross was also subject to rather different security requirements from those prevailing in the commercial sector. By early 1992 the quality and complexity of the detailing was apparent.

A Royal opening


The building was completed in April 1994 and officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in July of that year. It has been home to the last five Chiefs.

The building's design was reviewed to incorporate the necessary protection for Britain's foreign intelligence-gathering agency. While the details and cost of construction have been released, approximately ten years after the original National Audit Office
National Audit Office (United Kingdom)
The National Audit Office is an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies...

 (NAO) report was written, some of the service's special requirements remain classified. The NAO report Thames House and Vauxhall Cross omits certain details, describing the cost and problems of certain modifications but not their nature. Rob Humphrey's London: The Rough Guide suggests one of these omitted modifications is a tunnel beneath the Thames to Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

.

The NAO put the final cost at £135.05m for site purchase and the basic building or £152.6m including the service’s special requirements.

2000 attack


On the evening of 20 September 2000 the building was attacked by unapprehended forces using a Russian-built RPG-22
RPG-22
The Soviet RPG-22 Netto is a one-shot disposable anti-tank rocket launcher first deployed in 1985, based on the RPG-18 rocket launcher, but firing a larger 72.5 mm fin stabilised projectile. The weapon can be prepared to fire in around 10 seconds, and can penetrate 400 mm of armour, 1.2 meters of...

 anti-tank missile, causing superficial damage. British Police recovered the discarded launcher at Spring Gardens park in Vauxhall
Vauxhall
-Demography:Many Vauxhall residents live in social housing. There are several gentrified areas, and areas of terraced townhouses on streets such as Fentiman Road and Heyford Avenue have higher property values in the private market, however by far the most common type of housing stock within...

, as well as finding remains of the missile which had exploded against an eighth floor window.

Cultural references


The building has appeared in The Tailor of Panama
The Tailor of Panama
The Tailor of Panama is a 2001 American film based on the 1996 spy novel of the same name by John le Carré, which was inspired by Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana...

as well as the James Bond
James Bond
James Bond, code name 007, is a fictional character created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short story collections. There have been a six other authors who wrote authorised Bond novels or novelizations after Fleming's death in 1964: Kingsley Amis,...

 films GoldenEye
GoldenEye
GoldenEye is the seventeenth spy film in the James Bond series, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. The film was directed by Martin Campbell and is the first film in the series not to take story elements from the works of novelist Ian Fleming...

, The World Is Not Enough
The World Is Not Enough
The World Is Not Enough is the nineteenth spy film in the James Bond film series, and the third to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. The film was directed by Michael Apted, with the original story and screenplay written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein. It...

and Die Another Day
Die Another Day
Die Another Day is the 20th spy film in the James Bond series, and the fourth and last film to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond; it is also the last Bond film of the original timeline with the series being rebooted with Casino Royale...

, all four starring Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brendan Brosnan, OBE is an Irish actor, film producer and environmentalist. After leaving school at 16, Brosnan began training in commercial illustration, but trained at the Drama Centre in London for three years...

. In the opening sequence of The World Is Not Enough
The World Is Not Enough
The World Is Not Enough is the nineteenth spy film in the James Bond film series, and the third to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. The film was directed by Michael Apted, with the original story and screenplay written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein. It...

, Bond chases a suspect from the building down the Thames. The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally. The newspaper was founded by Arthur B...

claimed that the British Government prevented some filming in front of the SIS Building, citing a security risk. However, a Foreign Office
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commonly called the Foreign Office or the FCO is a British government department responsible for promoting the interests of the United Kingdom overseas, created in 1968 by merging the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office.The head of the FCO is the...

 spokesperson repudiated the claims and expressed displeasure with the misleading article.

A steampunk
Steampunk
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United...

 pastiche
Pastiche
A pastiche is a literary or other artistic genre or technique that is a "hodge-podge" or imitation. The word is also a linguistic term used to describe an early stage in the development of a pidgin language.-Hodge-podge:...

 of the building featured in the comic book
Comic book
A comic book or comicbook is a magazine made up of comics, narrative artwork in the form of separate panels that represent individual scenes, often accompanied by dialog as well as including...

 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as the headquarters of British Military Intelligence in 1898.

The SAS
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 veteran-turned writer Andy McNab
Andy McNab
Sergeant ‘Andy McNab’ DCM MM is the pseudonym of an English novelist and former SAS operative and soldier.McNab came into public prominence in 1993, when he published his account of the failed Special Air Service patrol, Bravo Two Zero for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in...

 frequently describes the building in his books.

The liner notes of Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke
Thomas "Thom" Edward Yorke is an English musician who is the lead vocalist and principal songwriter for Radiohead. He mainly plays guitar and piano, but he has also played drums and bass guitar...

's album The Eraser
The Eraser
The Eraser is the debut solo album by Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, released on 10 July 2006. The album debuted at #3 on the UK Albums Chart and at #2 on the Billboard 200 in the United States, selling over 90,000 copies in its first week. Critical reception to the album was generally positive...

 contain a stylized depiction of the SIS Building (among other London Landmarks) being washed away by a storm surge.

External links

  • Report on SIS' Vauxhall Cross building by the National Audit Office
    National Audit Office (United Kingdom)
    The National Audit Office is an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies...

    .