I found "Loki" to be a must-watch show for the production design. Largely set within a bureaucratic complex known as the TVA, the sets are mostly practical and contain an amazing mish-mash of everything you'd see in a History of 20th Century Design class. As the characters move from space to space, you think of Brutalism, then Breuer, then Brasilia, then the Barbican; you think of Olivetti and Art Deco; you think of Soviet-era control rooms, New Deal architecture and American Big Oil headquarters; a DMV as designed by the Bauhaus, an automat Eero Saarinen might have designed for the TWA terminal.
A number of the spaces feel, for lack of a better term, cheerfully oppressive. It's the strange dichotomy you achieve by brightly lighting a gloomy space, then adding dashes of color to intentionally confuse the mood.
Then there are the objects, as seen on desks and counters, hanging from ceilings, mounted in walls or worn by characters. Everything is wonderfully analog, ranging from steampunk-mechanical to maybe 1985.
My favorite space on the show is the Repair Department, which must have been incredibly fun to design and populate. It's just masses of senseless shelves, Akro-Mils storage drawers, cathode-ray tubes, early computers, pre-digital business machines, order-ticket spikes, a gigantic pneumatic tube system hanging from the ceiling.
I've learned that the Production Designer, Kasra Farahani, was actually an Industrial Design major at ArtCenter. After graduating in 2000, Farahani found work in Hollywood art departments, rising through the ranks to become a concept artist, art director and eventually production designer.
As for where the design inspiration came from, below is an excerpt from an interview with Farahani by The Art Newspaper:
AN: Were there specific examples of Modernist architecture and design that you were looking at when you started working on the series?
Kasra Farahani: So many, everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Breuer, to Mies van der Rohe to Paul Rudolph—you have a shot in the John Portman building—to Oscar Niemeyer. And then a lot of Eastern European, Soviet-influenced Modernism played a big part in it as well. I can honestly tell you that my first and foremost inspiration was Modernism. Part of that is because the TVA (Time Variance Authority) is a bureaucracy and I think, archetypically, so much of what we know a bureaucracy to be is that post-war, highly funded institutional look….
I was also looking a lot at Brutalism and the Modernism in former Soviet states, that are heavily influenced by Socialism and Soviet architecture, and where scale is such a big driving force of the design.
The TVA sets themselves, which were almost entirely full 360-degree sets, were very much designed as an intentional paradox between the stoic, large-scale Brutalism form language, and the surfacing and palette and whimsical patterning, which is very much taken from American mid-century Modern. Those two things create these spaces that feel at once super intimidating and then uncomfortably inviting and warm at the same time.
AN: That's kind of the irony of a lot of Modernism, Brutalism especially, it had these utopian ideals of creating affordable social housing, but then a lot of the people found it really oppressive to live in.
Kasra Farahani: Yeah. Modernism has been that way the whole time—it was designed to be super cheap and utilitarian and routinely it ends up being the most expensive kind of architecture.