International Museum of Design Atlanta


During a recent visit, I had planned to visit the High Museum, Atlanta’s encyclopedic art museum, which was significantly strengthened in the last decade by an expansion designed by Renzo Piano.  The expansion provided better space for displaying the permanent exhibition and providing both more cohesion to the galleries and significantly improved traffic flow.

But I didn’t go there.

I got sidetracked by two small, specialty museums in the neighborhood:  the Museum of Design Atlanta and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Money Museum (discussed in a future post).

Museum 1: Atlanta International Museum of Design

Atlanta, Georgia USA

Quick Review

This is my third or fourth attempt to visit this museum.  When I tried previously, the museum was located in downtown Atlanta, in the corner of an office building in Peachtree Center and never seemed to be open.

The museum has since moved to midtown Atlanta across the street from the High Museum and was open.  The new location is similar to the old one but in this building, the museum takes up most of the first floor of an office building.

I followed two other people into the museum; when they heard about the $US 10 entrance fee, they decided not to visit.  (Discounts are available to seniors, students and educators; my entrance was $8.)

The two galleries and hallway are reserved for temporary exhibitions.  If the museum has a collection, it makes no effort to display it nor does it mention a collection on its website (or I missed it).  The temporary exhibition during my visit was on architect and furniture designer Eero Saarinen, who’s best known for designing such buildings as Dulles Airport and the St. Louis Arch and such iconic furniture as the tulip chair and womb chair, both manufactured by Knoll.

I was impressed by the exhibition. It starts in the lobby, with displays of the womb chair and an overview of Saarinen’s life, and an LCD display showing a self-running slide show providing an overview of his life—the first time I’ve seen displays used to show slides rather than as part of computer displays or to show video and was impressed by the results.

A hallway doubling as a gallery provided biographical background, and answered some of my burning questions: how did the Finnish-born Saarinen end up in the US? Why did I remember hearing about two Saarinens (one was his father, with whom Eero worked)?  Didn’t he die young? (Yes; he passed away at age 52 of a brain tumor.)  The bio also provided some juicy details (though they weren’t treated salaciously), such as his divorcing his first wife to marry an art critic and his work with the OSS, the predecessor organization to the CIA.

The highlights of the exhibition were two medium-sized galleries:

  • One that introduced his design principles and showed drawings and models for some of his best known designs
  • The other that provided a chronological perspective of his work and showed how various projects influenced later ones, as illustrated through drawings and models, too.

Having had seen the difficulties that the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal has with engagingly presenting architecture and architects, I was impressed with the way that this museum succeeded.  That it had a well-known architect who designed several iconic works helped, but so did the use of actual furniture and models, and the emphasis on the story of Saarinen’s life and feelings rather than just a dry presentation of his work.

The visit concluded in the lobby gift shop, which had a few Alessi objects for sale and similarly small number of books.  I also noticed that I was the only visitor in the museum.  Although Wednesday isn’t the most heavily trafficked day, that the museum was dead at lunchtime on a weekday when it is surrounded by offices and other art venues is surprising.  The $10 entrance—which really covers entrance to a single exhibition—is probably a barrier.  Not even a school group visited; in contrast, the High Museum was teeming with school buses and had a front yard full of people.

Fast Facts about the Museum Type of Museum: DesignHighlights of the Permanent Collection: No permanent collection on display; it is unclear whether the museum even has a collection or is merely a place for exhibition .Notes about Special Exhibitions: All special exhibitions.  The exhibition you will see is likely to differ from the one I saw.

Special Amenities: Eco-friendly, with really cool washrooms that only have air dryers and galleries whose lights turn on when motion is detected.

Admission Discounts: Teachers, students, military.

Issues to Consider When Visiting: One hour is sufficient, even if studying the exhibition labels in depth.




One thought on “International Museum of Design Atlanta

  1. Saarinen also designed Woodward Court, the dorm I lived in for four years at the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, it was demolished a few years back to make way for a B-school complex.

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