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On The Drawing Board

DESIGN CONFIDENTIAL: Shoe transmitters, "through-the-wall" cameras, the "enigma" cipher machine from World War II and George Washington's handwritten letter about hiring spies are sure to make aspiring agents take pause at the new International Spy...

DESIGN CONFIDENTIAL: Shoe transmitters, “through-the-wall” cameras, the “enigma” cipher machine from World War II and George Washington’s handwritten letter about hiring spies are sure to make aspiring agents take pause at the new International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., but the building’s design is also something to investigate. The $35 million project involved linking five historic buildings, including one that once housed the American Communist Party. It opens July 19.

This story first appeared in the June 28, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

To allude to the nature of the display, there are dagger-shaped lights, a bomb-shelter staircase, glass discs with lights drilled in a cement floor for shots of illumination and two-way glass panels that are only transparent at certain angles. Designed to be an “immersive” experience, the museum traces the history and craft of spying from biblical times to today, with well-appointed rooms true to their respective time periods. A library, for example, depicts the early days of espionage in the late 1800s, and another space recreates the Berlin Tunnel, where East and West Germans intercepted one another’s messages.

Many of the 30 consultants who worked on the project quizzed former spies to assure their designs were accurate, said Patrick Gallagher, principal of Gallagher & Associates, the firm behind the museum’s concept and interior design.

“When you talk to these retired CIA and KGB agents, what was fascinating was their real stories are so much better than the movies,” he said.

The 70,000-square-foot structure also has the Spy City Cafe, Zola restaurant and a store for disguise kits and such. The aim is to keep crowds coming back after museum hours for book signings, lectures and film screenings.

BLACK LIGHT: Alexandre Morgando and Matthieu Bureau, the fashion design duo behind the Alexandre Matthieu label, are now lighting up the interior design domain. The Parisian designers recently completed a light fixture, the result of a year-long collaboration with Austrian crystal manufacturer Swarovski and French lighting manufacturer Lucien Gau. To create the chandelier, the designers used only black-faceted crystals that dangle from a star-shaped aluminum centerpiece. The “Black Burst” retails for about $4,400 and is available at the Lucien Gau studio in the Bastille district of Paris.”