Bad Men: how to design a secret lair

Photo from Taylor Wilder/Emerald.

There has been a distinct surge in the villainous real estate business as of late: Cruella De Vil is looking for a vacation home in the Swiss Alps. Hannibal Lector wants a teahouse somewhere in Sausalito, California. A thieving stockbroker needs a home after he has purchased Gardiners Island, located a 30-minute helicopter ride outside of Manhattan.

Architecture professor Stephen Duff has started a new studio this fall term titled “A Secret Lair for an Evil Villain,” in which students are assigned to construct a villain’s contemporary sanctuary. The idea behind the class originated from a study abroad program Duff hosts in Vancouver. Students traveled by boat through Howe Sound, the waterfront northwest of Vancouver, where the hills on either side were covered in towering homes. One with dark-tinted windows sat atop a cliff.

“We started joking around that it looked like there was some evil villain who lived up there,” said Duff. “Then it popped into my mind, being a teacher of design, wouldn’t it be fun to do a studio of some evil villain in a secret location?”

This studio is unique compared to the other architecture studios, in which students are supplied with a site and a semblance of programming. In this instance, students conceptualize both. On the first day of class, students arrived with a description of their client – including their career and character, as well as maps and photographs of various landscapes of the world to be shown to their client.

Students concocted projects including a greenhouse for a middle-aged botanist and widow-turned-chemical weapons manufacturer who’s looking to construct a greenhouse for her poisonous plants. Another involves a quantum physicist who teleports and robs banks to fund his exploits. He harnesses energy from tidal waves and lightning strikes to power his teleportation center located in a cave on Lady Musgrave Island near Queensland, Australia, where tidal waves are prevalent.

Evan Van Sandt, a third-year undergraduate student, worked with Scarface’s Tony Montana. Montana wants to relocate closer to his suppliers in Colombia, so Van Sandt designed him a lakeside, walled-up compound.

“In essence, it’s a huge show of money and power,” said Van Sandt of the palatial 7,000-square-foot abode.

The home includes buildings to impress guests and clientele. These sections are much more ostentatious, while the living situation is more operable and private in comparison.

“I definitely want a cocaine vault somewhere, too, but I haven’t gotten around to it,” Van Sandt said. “There’s definitely going to be a vault.”

Third-year master’s student Will Brechter found a Marin County cliffside site and tailored his client around it. His name is Dr. James Tenebrosi, a tech barren investor from Silicon Valley.

“Behind the scenes, he uses his connections in the tech world to mine information on people and blackmail them to further amass his wealth,” Brechter said. “Muahahaha.”

Dr. Tenebrosi’s home is a grandiose domicile built against a cliff. It includes a private master’s quarters, a dining space and a detached office space where he brings his victims. With the constant space adjustment that comes with being literally on the edge of a cliff, Brechter said, “I’m not sure if the helicopter pad is going to work.”

“Within the lair, there’s a platform that drops out, kind of like the old Dr. Evil move, and that complements the house hanging off the cliff,” Brechter said. “People can get dropped down to the bottom of the house and tumble down the cliff and end up in San Francisco Bay.”

Second-year graduate student Fearn Smith focused on a modern interpretation of The Count of Monte Cristo and assembling a bunker on the remote Island of Montecristo off the mainland of Italy.

The home has a false entry to snare and trap intruders, a section of the house that Smith says can be operated “based on his whims.”

“This room in particular, is very transformative,” Smith said. “Depending on who falls into his trap, he may want to seduce them or confuse the hell out of them. He doesn’t kill people. He psychologically tortures people.”

The interior of the home is constructed with concrete and steel.

“He’s so hardened,” Smith explained. “As a character, he’s lost empathy for humanity.”

Home is where the heart of stone is, after all.


This story was originally published on Thursday, Nov. 6 in print and online for The Daily Emerald.

More stories I’ve written for the Emerald can be found here.


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