Spook Central – the MI6 Building at Vauxhall

mi6 headquarters vauxhall

Trains from Clapham Junction to Waterloo generally stop at Vauxhall, and whenever on the service I look at the passengers getting on or off at that station and wonder which ones are the spooks.

Because Vauxhall is home to the Secret Intelligence Service, more commonly known as MI6, and their HQ sits on the southern riverfront just downriver from Vauxhall bridge. This is where one would find M’s office, where Q comes up with wacky gadgets and where James Bond himself presumably files his expense claims.

Despite having been comprehensively blown up in Skyfall and Spectre, the building looks remarkably intact, although construction equipment for the new Tideway ‘super sewer’ crowds around the structure.

Completed in 1994 it is the work of the architect Terry Farrell, who made his name in the ‘post-modernist’ wave of the 1980s and ‘90s, with buildings such as the eggcup-adorned TV-AM studios, Alban Gate in the City, and Embankment Place, which sits athwart Charing Cross station.

The architecture of the building is said to be a mash up of the art deco industrial palaces – such as Battersea and Bankside power stations – that adorn the river, and Mayan or Aztec temples. Farrell has built a ziggurat of yellow stone and green glass that seems to challenge anyone to count how many floors there are (it’s said that the building has over 60 ‘rooftops’).

Until it was built, governments officially disavowed the existence of MI6, despite it being pretty common knowledge that the secret service had headquarters first in St James’s, then in Lambeth North, and being a home for spooks the specifications for the building are the secretest of top secrets.

We know that it has an independent generator, bomb and bulletproof walls and windows, 25 different types of glass, but there are rumours of a shooting range (very James Bond), protection against electronic eavesdropping and – my favourite – a tunnel under the river connecting it to the network of tunnels that are said to run through Whitehall (or perhaps directly to MI5, whose Thames House HQ sits on the north bank near Lambeth Bridge).

Large parts of the building are below ground level (of course we don’t know how many floors), but whether there is a basement lab with a Ben Whishaw lookalike devising a whole range of improbable tech, we can only speculate.