After decades of Star Trek, the bridge of a Starfleet vessel is an instantly familiar place to almost any television viewer in the world.
When Richard James was tasked with production design on Star Trek: Voyager, however, he decided to push the boundaries. Did the bridge really have to be dominated by a single large viewscreen in the front? Could command functions be decentralized? Was it time to break the traditional bridge mould?
James asked for concept sketches from set designers, illustrators and scenic artists, including Louise Dorton, Gary Speckman, Doug Drexler, John Chichester and Jim Martin. Because Voyager would be smaller, sleeker and faster than the Enterprise-D, he requested designs that felt more like a military ship. His basic instruction was: “look at everything. No concept is too far out.”
“I just wanted to feel like we’d explored all avenues by the time we came up with the finished design,” he told Star Trek: The Magazine for its November 2000 issue.
I wanted to feel a certain satisfaction that other avenues had been explored. We arrived at the ‘look’ we have for certain reasons, not just because it was the only thing we considered — which it wasn’t. We went through the gamut of ideas and concepts.
But the further afield he went, the more it confirmed the designs “just weren’t Star Trek“
As Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens elegantly put it in The Art of Star Trek (1995), James “rediscovered the strengths of the basic template laid out by Matt Jefferies almost thirty years earlier.”
For example, that a TV audience relates to the viewscreen like a car windscreen and that it makes sense to point characters at it, even if, in-universe, there is no reason why the bridge should have a back and front.
Like the bridge of the Enterprise-D’s, Voyager‘s was given a layered look. But unlike the “D”, which had two levels and a smooth transition between them, Voyager‘s got three and connecting steps. Add to that the Voyager‘s grey colors, as opposed to The Next Generation‘s sand-colored chairs and red carpet, and the new series ended up with an altogether more practical look.
The interior sets for Voyager were built literally in place of The Next Generation‘s, on Paramount’s Stages 8 and 9. Picard’s ready room became Voyager‘s conference room; Ten Forward the Voyager mess hall. engineering, sickbay and the transporter room were all upgraded versions of the sets built for The Next Generation, which were themselves upgraded versions of the sets originally erected for Star Trek: Phase II and then Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1977.