The SIS Building is the headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). It is located at 85, Albert Embankment, on the bank of the River Thames beside Vauxhall Bridge. The building is known within the intelligence community as Legoland or ‘Babylon-on-Thames’ due to its resemblance to an ancient Babylonian ziggurat.
Layers of decks rising from the river produce around 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.
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. In the 1980s, the site was purchased by Regalian Properties, who erected a building there in the middle of the consecutive decade.
The land was bought by Regalian Properties, a real estate development company, in 1983. Architect Terry Farrell won the competition to develop a building on the site – originally an urban village. The developer approached the government in 1987 to assess their interest in the proposed building. In July 1988 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher approved the purchase of the new building for the SIS.
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 17th century glass kilns, three barge houses and an inn (The Vine) came to light, as well as evidence of a river wall.
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.
On the evening of 20 September 2000 the building was attacked by IRA-related forces using a Russian-built RPG-22 anti-tank missile, causing superficial damage. British Police recovered the discarded launcher at Spring Gardens park in Vauxhall. They also found the remains of the missile which had exploded against an eighth-floor window.
The building was completed in April 1994 and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in July that year.
The most impressive scene of “The World Is Not Enough” involved an explosion which caused a large hole in the side of the building and a speed boat launching into the Thames. This was filmed using a 50-foot high model of the SIS building constructed at Pinewood Studios.
For security reasons, anyone wishing to film in the vicinity of SIS headquarters is required to obtain permission from Lambeth Council prior to filming.
The building has appeared in “The Tailor of Panama” as well as the James Bond films “GoldenEye”, “The World Is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day”, all four starring Pierce Brosnan. The filming of the exterior of the building for the 23rd James Bond film, “Skyfall” starring Daniel Craig, was postponed due to snow in early February 2012; the building is seen with the upper offices bombed in an explosion. In the opening sequence of “The World Is Not Enough”, Bond chases a suspect from the building down the Thames after a bomb was detonated, damaging a portion of the building.