Close Encounters With the Space-Age Restaurant at the Center of LAX

A facelift for L.A.’s Theme Building is almost finished, and Sean Adams remembers working on the iconic restaurant inside it.

Theme Building


Back in the ’90s (not the 1890s), we were asked by Eddie Sotto at Walt Disney Imagineering to help out with the design of the Encounter Restaurant. This restaurant is in the Theme Building at LAX; the building in the center of the airport that looks like a giant flying saucer. Recently the entire building was renovated and
the scaffolding that’s shrouded its spider-like legs will soon be removed for first time in almost two years.

Theme Building

I have no idea why it’s called the Theme Building. If it were the “Space-Age Theme Building,” or “Tiki Theme Building” it would make sense, but generic “Theme Building” seems open to misinterpretation.

Paul Williams

Paul Williams designed the building in 1961 as part of the overall airport redesign. Williams was a genius architect that defined the Los Angeles style of the 1950s and 1960s. It may be easy to write the building off as Googie or Jetsons-esque, but it’s an elegant structure and the only thing at LAX that isn’t stressful or depressing.


We worked with Eddie on the graphic components of the project. It was a wonderful collaboration. At the time, the 1967 version of Tomorrowland was being refurbished. This made us sad. We believed the 1967 Tomorrowland to be the highest achievement in the history of civilization. So we decided to rescue some of our favorite elements with type design, materials, and color.

The space age theme is infused into the experience, and we worked hard to find avenues to express this in every part of the project. Bathrooms can be rather dull, and my business partner Noreen Morioka had a wonderful idea to install the rubber gloves that are used for isolation boxes in the wall between the men’s room and women’s room.


This would allow the guest to put his or her hands through the gloves and touch someone on the other side. Neither party would know who was on the other end. Oddly, this idea was not realized.

Read more of Sean Adams’ blog Settler’s Landing
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Adams is a partner at AdamsMorioka in Beverly Hills, California, whose
clients include The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences, Adobe, Gap, Frank Gehry Partners, Nickelodeon, Sundance,
Target, USC, and The Walt Disney Company. Work by AdamsMorioka has been
exhibited widely, including a solo exhibition at the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art. Sean has been
recognized by every major competition and publication including STEP, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA,
The Type Directors Club, The British Art Directors’ Club, and the New
York Art Directors’ Club, and as one the forty most important people
shaping design in the I.D.40. Sean is a frequent lecturer and
competition judge, teacher at Art Center College of Design and
president ex-officio of AIGA. He is the co-author of
Logo Design Workbook, Color Design Workbook, and the book series Masters of Design.