When Los Angeles was selected to host the 1984 Olympic Games, the event was suffering from a slump. A dark shadow still hung over the Olympics following the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Games. Despite an economic downturn and the financial failure of the Montreal Games in 1976, Los Angeles agreed to stage the event—without any government funding.
Los Angeles Games organizer and USC Trustee Peter V. Ueberroth turned to architect Jon Jerde ’66 to reinvigorate the atmosphere of the Games. Jerde would go on to leave a mark on the Olympics and Los Angeles that lasted beyond his lifetime. A graduate of the USC School of Architecture, Jerde died Feb. 9 at age 75.
Jerde began his career as a young architect in the 1960s for a group that created shopping malls. Inspired by the vibe of Europe’s bustling plazas and town squares, he grew intrigued with the potential of transforming public spaces into entertainment destinations. His designs were colorful and lively.
The feeling echoed throughout his work for the 1984 Olympics. He teamed with designer and celebrated color expert Deborah Sussman to welcome the world to LA by ingeniously using inexpensive fabric, cardboard and temporary aluminum scaffolding for all the banners, signs, columns and entryways. Incorporating an eye-popping color scheme and “supergraphics,” large-scale typographic designs that have since become ubiquitous around the world, they unified the visitor experience at the Games.
In the years that followed, Sussman—a visiting critic at the USC School of Architecture from 1963 to 1973—designed projects around the globe. She died in August 2014 at age 83.
After winning global acclaim for the Olympics, Jerde designed innovative retail-entertainment complexes like CityWalk in Los Angeles, the Bellagio hotel complex in Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas.
Jerde was a member of the USC School of Architecture’s Board of Councilors and is the namesake of one of the school’s endowed chairs. A fellow of the American Institute of Architects since 1990, he was the first Distinguished Alumnus of the USC School of Architecture, receiving that honor in 1985. Jerde taught design studios at the University Park Campus and at an international campus in France.