The 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics were visually defined by a palette barely touched by patriotic red, white, and blue. Rather, designer Deborah Sussman — with her husband, architect Paul Prejza — colored the city with environmental graphics that buoyantly exuded the hues of the diverse cultures in LA.
Sussman explained in July to Los Angeles Magazine that these warm reds, acid blues, and rich yellows “were the colors I had observed in areas of celebration along the Pacific Rim — Mexico, Japan, India, China — the colors of the Hispanic and Asian communities that impact Los Angeles.”
Sussman died last month, the Olympics still standing out in her impressive portfolio. At the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, the exhibition Los Angeles 1984 – Colorful L.A. is showcasing some of Sussman’s designs with photographs from the games positioned on the Quais d’Ouchy on Lake Geneva. Inside there’s a complementary exhibition on the 15 posters created by artists for the games, such as stars collaged from historic photographs by Robert Rauschenberg, an aerial view of a swimmer by David Hockney, and Roy Lichtenstein elevating the oft-overlooked equestrian competitions to Pop Art.
This year hit the 30th anniversary of the games, held from July 28 to August 12. Yet unlike in other host cities where buildings lodged awkwardly into the cityscape with no future purpose turned to ruins, much of the design and architecture legacy of the 1984 games is in future influence. Sussman and Prejza — in collaboration with architect Jon Jerde of the Jerde Partnership — imagined transformative elements that would give big bang for little bucks (you can see the design identity on their studio’s site). Sussman’s playful eye for color, shape, and contrast was key in this, from the “LA84” banners that populated the light poles, to enthusiastic installations that added star-ringed columns to walkways or gold stars to buildings. It unified the city in tone, but was mostly temporary and markedly inexpensive compared to previous Olympics.
As Mark Sinclair wrote for Creative Review: “In its refusal to put national colours at the forefront of the Games’ image, the palette of hot magenta, vermillion, aqua and chrome yellow would prove to be one of the most radical aspects of the Los Angeles Games.” And that ecstatic joy with design still feels unexpected and original, even three decades on.
Los Angeles 1984 – Colorful L.A. continues at the Olympic Museum (Quais d’Ouchy 1, Lausanne, Switzerland) through November 23.
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