Since its start, in 2001, A+D Architecture and Design Museum has been a vagabond, migrating from one donated (i.e.: rent-free) space to another, staying for as long as three years and, once, unexpectedly, a single night. But the museum will finally wrap up that nomadic journey, on April 27, with the opening of its first permanent home, at 6032 Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles.

A+D Architecture and Design Museum
Image courtesy A+D Architecture and Design Museum
A+D Architecture and Design Museum

A+D was the brainchild of Stephen Kanner, FAIA, and Joe Addo, AIA, inspired by a design museum in Finland and their volunteer experience, under Bernard Zimmerman’s visionary leadership, staging large-scale West Week exhibitions at the Pacific Design Center. Their idea for a progressive, grass-roots venue that would bring architecture and its processes to the general public prompted developer Ira Yellin to give A+D its first space, in downtown L.A.’s historic Bradbury Building. The first show (competition entries for Our Lady of Los Angeles Cathedral) drew over 500 visitors its opening day. But, after Yellin’s death, in 2002, the museum had to find new quarters.

Dynamic without a permanent collection, A+D was already engaging leading and emerging, L.A.-based architects and designers—both for its board and exhibitions—but sweat equity was its currency. So, once again, this non-profit turned to philanthropic landlords with available spaces between leases. “No developer wants a dark building,” says Tibbie Dunbar, who has been the museum’s director since December 2004 and, until recently, its only paid employee.

After moving to Santa Monica (for that unanticipated “one-night stand”) and then, to Sunset Strip (2003 to 2005), A+D became homeless. As Dunbar puts it, “we went virtual for a year,” followed by three years in a generous Museum Row space, donated by developer Wayne Ratkovich.

“Whenever we moved,” recalls Dunbar, “people would lose us. It’s great to bring art and architecture to different neighborhoods, but hard to fundraise around a nomadic existence, or plan ahead and commit to exhibitions. We needed a permanent home.”

Galvanizing the local design community, the museum created its 20/20 Foundation: 20 architects and 20 designers from fields including graphics, landscape, cars, and clothing. “They’re people who believe in what we’re doing, lending support financially and in name,” says Dunbar. Each member has committed to a $24,000 contribution (in $2,000 installments, over six years).

After canvassing Museum Row for vacant spaces, A+D negotiated a six-year lease, with a five-year renewal option, for a 4,800-square-foot, street-level space in a small, Moderne, 1948 office building, opposite LACMA. Design work, for a light exterior remodel and two galleries with support areas, was donated by Kanner’s firm, with Richard Meier & Partners and Gensler. Materials, fixtures, and construction came from philanthropic contractors and suppliers.

The inaugural show, CELEBRATE 2010 (April 27-June 11), with a gala opening and fundraising silent auction, will feature signed pieces by the 20/20, other top architects and artists, local fifth graders, and other invitees, all working with a “kit” of geometric wood pieces.

Reflecting on A+D’s newfound stability, Dunbar proclaims: “Now we’re positioned to fly.”

Visit the A+D Web site to see the list of donors and to learn more about Celebrate 2010.