Creating Star Trek’s First Bridge

Enterprise bridge concept art
Concept art by Pato Guzman

Gene Roddenberry knew he wnated the bridge to be at the center of the action in Star Trek. Beyond that, his designers, Matt Jefferies and Pato Guzman, had little to go on.

Jefferies was still designing the Enterprise itself in early 1964. He had honed in on a design that separated the warp engines from the main component of the ship: the saucer section. It made sense to place the ship’s command center on top of the saucer. Which meant the bridge was going to be circular.

“It was pretty well established with the model that the thing was going to be in a full circle,” Jefferies recalled years later. “From there it became a question of how we were going to make it, how it could come apart, where the cameraman could get into it.”

Guzman proposed a domed “Control Room”, which introduced two now-familiar features: a viewscreen in the front and the captain’s chair in the center.

Roddenberry writes in The Making of Star Trek that he wanted the captain to be in the center, “so he could swivel around and see every vital station. His people should be in contact with him easily.”


Guzman left the series in October and was succeeded as art director by Franz Bachelin. By that time, Jefferies had become skeptical of the direction in which they were going.

“I had to come up with the construction drawings to actually build these sets,” he told William Shatner for his book Star Trek Memories, “and my problem was in trying to figure out just what the hell Bachelin had done such a pretty painting about.”

I mean in terms of practicality, his paintings just didn’t work; the construction crew would have gone out of their minds trying to build what he’d painted.

A self-styled “nuts-and-bolts man,” Jefferies began thinking from the position of the ordinary bridge worker.

The idea of the whole thing was that if a guy’s supposed to be on his toes and alert for hours, he’s going to have to stay sharp, and if you can make him comfortable it will help. So I felt that everything he had to work with should be at hand without him having to reach for it and at a comfortable angle.

That resulted in the design of the consoles around the edge of the bridge.

Building the set

Jefferies disliked placing the consoles at a higher level than the center of the room, where the captain and pilots were seated, but he didn’t have much of a choice: they needed to be able to roll sections in and out.

The set consisted of eight such “wild” sections: one for the turbolift, one for the viewscreen and six work stations. When assembled, the eight components formed an octagon, approximating a circle.

Construction started in November 1964 and took six weeks to complete. The electric wiring alone required hundreds of man-hours. All the instruments could be controlled from a single panel off-stage or individually by the actors. Miles of wiring were needed to connect everything.

At the behest of “The Cage” director Robert Butler, the set was painted in bluish-grey. This was changed when “The Cage” was rejected by the studio but Roddenberry was asked to produce a second pilot. Contrasting blacks and reds were added to the railings, turbolift doors and navigation console. That color scheme would remain for all of Star Trek’s three seasons.

Franz Joseph’s Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual (1975), now considered apocryphal, suggests that the bridge was rotated 36° port to allow turbolifts to travel down the centerline of the saucer section. No reason was given as to why the bridge crew would be looking in another direction than the ship was traveling, although with artificial gravity limiting any sense of momentum, and electronic displays instead of windows, there is no reason either why the crew should face directly forward.

10 comment

Can anyone comment on why the SF Tech Manual is considered “apocryphal”? What source of equivalent detail exists that’s considered canon?

Oscar (Apr 7, 2017)

I was wondering that as well.

Daryl Brown (Jul 8, 2017)

There aren’t any canon reference materials such as tech manuals, or the encyclopedia, the chronology, medical reference manuals or blueprints. It’s all licensed to various publishers just as the novels are.

Anthony (Apr 25, 2018)

That’s not a scene from “The Cage”. Yes, it was the bridge used in “The Cage”, but that’s Shatner in the back (behind him, Sally Kellerman?) and actor Gary Lockwood next to the captain’s chair. This is the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

Dean L. Norton (Jul 28, 2019)

Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve changed the caption.

That’s an interesting photo of the bridge from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Not yet in the red color scheme, which it had in the broadcast version. Maybe this is a still from an early rehearsal before they modified it?

Joseph Pigg (May 29, 2020)

In so far as the “canon” question of Star Fleet Technical Manual. As someone else mentioned these materials are just licenced to publishers. However, bits and pieces of information from the SFTM had made it into the films and a couple episodes for television over the years. For example, some of the schematics were used as displays, and ship names (only mentioned in SFTM previously) were used. It’s considered “apocryphal” because since 2002 the Star Trek Encyclopedia, Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future and The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual are considered the “official” reference point for all licenced tie-in material according to the Star Trek franchise. So if you want to publish say an owner’s manual for the Enterprise, the info has to be consistent with those three references.

Your site is great, by the way.

jweier80 (Aug 20, 2020)

Franz Joseph’s work was firstly based on the only “canon” source for Star Trek available: the TOS episodes themselves. He literally reverse-engineered from film frames. A work licensed by the studio, The Making of Star Trek, whose author had access to the studio, sets and production personnel (including Roddenberry) was consulted. Joseph also used actual production drawings by Matt Jeffries. He also corresponded with Roddenberry, whom was enthusiastic and encouraged his work. Which was at the time actually endorsed by the studio.

The sheer lunacy of having a canon relating to a work of imagination and fiction aside… I can’t imagine anything being more “canon” than Franz Joseph’s work. Certainly in terms of being closer to the source material in timeframe.

The idea of people going back after the fact and saying his work was inaccurate or incorrect is pretty wacky. He was working based off sets that changed on an almost weekly basis. Creating the inner workings of a starship that didn’t actually exist by matching sets in episodes with the only consistent aspect being the exterior model of the ship, and the dimensions decided upon by Roddenberry and the production staff once production of the series proper actually began. He did a splendid job and stuck beautifully with the details of the show, using creative license only where absolutely necessary, because no detail existed. Or because the details of the the exterior didn’t match up with the interior without modification. Or where details of the set were changed for creative reasons, but made no mechanical sense.

Since supposedly canon only relates to what is shown on screen, then all we really have today is the three seasons worth of episodes that were filmed in the 1960s. Anyone working on technical renderings of The Original Series has no more canon to work with now than Franz Joseph did then.

Unless you count subsequent Trek series, and those were created after the fact.

If they were written and created properly, they should be created to fit into the canon that existed, instead of retconning their reality.

The studio owns the show and they can do whatever they want to for their official licensing. But the idea of publications today being more official than official publications from back then has everything to do with copywriting and marketing, and nothing to do with what’s faithful to the source material or makes sense.

Kind of like revisionist historians that rewrite history after the fact. Lol.

Oh well, we love it, but it’s just a TV show.

Gary (Oct 13, 2020)

The picture of the black-and-white bridge from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is actually a photoshop job. The bridge in that episode had the red railings and turboshaft door.

Here’s a shot from the episode. This is the photo was was altered because someone (who?) wanted to see what Kirk, etc. would look like on “The Cage” bridge.

Notice that all the actors are in exactly the same position. The position of their bodies and all their arms and legs line up perfectly. This tells us that it can’t be that the black-and-white bridge photo was taken during a rehearsal and the “red bridge” was taken later after the bridge was repainted. It’s just one photo (of the red bridge) photoshopped to look like “The Cage” bridge.

Also note that the Burke chairs in the black-and-white photo have the leather extensions that actually weren’t used in that episode.

Rob Reed (Dec 19, 2020)

You’re right! Thank you so much for pointing this out. I’ve taken that picture out.

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