SIS's Vauxhall Cross headquarters, seen from Millbank
|Alternative names||SIS HQ, SIS Building, MI6 Building|
|Address||85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, Lambeth|
|Town or city||London|
|Design and construction|
|Structural engineer||John Laing plc|
The headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) (also known as "MI6"), at Vauxhall Cross, is located at 85 Albert Embankment in Vauxhall, a south western part of central London, on the bank of the River Thames beside Vauxhall Bridge. It is known within the intelligence community as "Legoland" and as "Babylon-on-Thames" due to its resemblance to an ancient Babylonian ziggurat.
Design and construction
The site on which the SIS building stands had been the location of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 19th century. Several industrial buildings were subsequently built on the site after the demolition of the pleasure gardens in the 1850s, including a glass factory, a vinegar works and a gin distillery. Archeological excavation of the site during building found the remains of seventeenth century glass kilns, as well as barge houses and an inn called The Vine. Evidence was also found for a river wall on the site.
In 1983 the site was bought by property developers Regalian Properties. A competition to develop the site was won by architect Terry Farrell, with an urban village as Farrell's original proposal. A scheme of office blocks was subsequently developed for the site, with a government agency as their occupier. The building had been sold for £130 million in 1989, with construction planned to take three years, built by John Laing. SIS ultimately became the occupiers of the building, having outgrown their previous headquarters in Lambeth. Farrell's design for the SIS building was influenced by 1930s industrial modernist architecture such as Bankside and Battersea Power Stations and Mayan and Aztec religious temples.
The opposite side of the building, seen from Vauxhall Cross
Regalian approached the government in 1987 to assess their interest in the proposed building. At the same time, MI6's sister service MI5 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 approved the purchase of the new building for the SIS. The government proposed to pay for the building outright to maintain secrecy over the intended use of the site—at this time the existence of MI6 was not officially acknowledged. 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.
The numerous layers over which the building is laid out create 60 separate roof areas. 25 different types of glass were used in the building, with 12,000 m2 of glass and aluminum used in the building's construction. The windows in the SIS building are triple glazed for security purposes. Due to the sensitive nature of MI6's work, large parts of the building are below street level, with numerous underground corridors serving the building.
In September 2000 the building was attacked by unapprehended forces using a Russian-built RPG-22 anti-tank missile, causing superficial damage. The Metropolitan Police recovered the discarded missile launcher at Spring Gardens park in Vauxhall, as well as finding remains of the missile which had exploded against an eighth floor window. Dissident Irish Republicans were believed to have been behind the attack. In August 2010 two men from North Wales were arrested after a parcel bomb was found at the SIS building's postal handling centre.
Vauxhall Cross has featured in several recent James Bond films. The building was depicted as having been attacked in the Bond films The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Skyfall (2012). For The World Is Not Enough a 50 ft high model of the building was constructed at Pinewood Studios. A special premiere of The World Is Not Enough was held at Vauxhall Cross for MI6 staff, who cheered when their headquarters was destroyed in the film.
- Thames House — The headquarters of MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency
- The Doughnut — The headquarters of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British signals intelligence and cybersecurity agency
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