Hollywood has long been a magnet not just for aspiring film stars but for the creative minded more generally: illustrators, advertisers, designers of all types. As a young city expanding at a vertiginous pace, postwar Los Angeles promised more than just economic opportunity for young commercial artists.

In the words of designer Gere Kavanaugh:

“When I came to California in 1960 it was completely different than where I had been working—absolutely, completely different. You could do anything you wanted to out here. You just did it!”

That spirit of freedom and innovation continues to make L.A. a design capital to this day. Supporting its many design cultures and subcultures is a network of more formal institutions and organizations dedicated to fostering innovative design: Otis College of Art and Design and California Institute of the Arts on the educational front, plus a number of world-class museums that regularly exhibit challenging work.

A few years ago we wrote about the exhibition Graphic Design: Now in Production when it came to L.A.’s Hammer Museum. Not far from the Hammer, in the city’s Miracle Mile district, is the Architecture and Design Museum. Consisting of just a few modest galleries, the A+D Museum is dwarfed by its fine art-oriented neighbor, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but the quality of A+D’s exhibitions is never in question.


The Architecture and Design Museum, across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

We had the opportunity to stop in last week and view its current exhibition, S, M, L, XLa, a group show of works in the fields of architecture, product design, graphic design and the spaces in between, that explore concepts of scale while reflecting on the character of Los Angeles. Here are some of our favorites pieces from the show:




Resembling an enormous geode, this sculpture has a grooved obsidian exterior and an interior chamber whose crystalline walls electronically project moving patterns of light and dark. According to the artists, “ZOOM originates from an interest in the ornamental excess one often observes in objects when viewed in microscopic detail.”

Flavors of Los Angeles

by Eduardo Viramontes


Los Angeles is composed of many smaller cities, each of which has its own unique identity. For this work, the artist has created graphic posters for four of these cities—Hollywood, Compton, Venice and Echo Park—that use color and typeface to reflect their different characters, while also scaling each poster to reflect the relative size of the city.

In Turn

by MISA (Maxi Spina Architects)


For this work, the artists created a brilliantly warped version of the Saunton Chess set. Their method was to begin with the silhouette of a piece, then rotate and extrude it in a series of partial turns along three spatial axes. The finished products are recognizable as chess pieces yet hard to grasp—literally and figuratively.


by Matthew Rosenberg (M-RAD)


The humble bench is actually quite an important place for people to rest, gather and socialize in public areas. In this piece, the artist puts an amusing spin on the concept by creating a seating structure studded with colorful bits of tubing of varying lengths that press in when you sit on them, briefly leaving an imprint of your bum behind before springing back into place.

Objets d’ Architecture

by The Foundation for Architecture and Design


Playing off of the phrase “objets d’ art,” this work invites visitors to submit a 2-D drawing of a small “object of architecture,” which the artists will then render in three dimensions using a 3D printer. The work table was already scattered with freshly realized submissions, illustrating an ever-shrinking gap between a 2D rendering and the possibility of a 3D product.

Chronological Crossings

by Miao Miao and Scott Franklin (NONdesigns)


“People get bored with their surroundings, so wouldn’t it be nice to be abel to change them just like fashion?” says Miao Miao of his NON BOX, a system of frames, floors, ceilings and walls that can slide into any number of configurations. Inside the construction is NON LINEAR LIGHTING, a grouping of clear acrylic lighting fixtures that are similarly open to various configurations and also allow for variations in the brightness and color of the light they emit.

Open Door

by Maya Santos and Rani De Leon (Fieldwork)


Before the liberating movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Los Angeles was home to a gay community that operated in secret, negotiating a legal system that sought to suppress it. Maya Santos and Rani De Leon bring this little-known history to light by exploring it with respect to the public spaces—the various downtown parks, bars, transit platforms and restrooms—that were used as covert meeting places, many of which still exist to this day.

Fox Searchlight’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

by Ryan Ziegelbauer, Gary McIntire, Anderson Grubb, Joel Baker, Steve Decraemer, Tim Sams, Kelly King, Ben Williams, Sam Curtis and Leeanne Antonio


To be sure, L.A. is a place where brilliant fantasies and outsized ambitions meet. This character is embodied in Ryan Ziegelbaur & company’s scale model of writer/director Wes Anderson’s filmic creation, the Grand Budapest Hotel, composed entirely of Lego bricks. Standing 7 feet tall, 6.5 feet wide and 3 feet deep and weighing 150 pounds, this replica took a total of 575 hours to build.

Lastly, the men’s room …


Not part of the exhibition, but we thought the highly graphic mixture of graffiti and collage was worth a nod—one of the many charms that make the Architecture and Design Museum worth a visit.

What design-oriented institutions do you frequent in Los Angeles besides the Architecture and Design Museum? Share in the comments!