Inside Autodesk’s Lobby/Museum

(photo Justin Fanil).jpgAs we reported last month, you have until January to catch the exhibition of Spark Award winners at the new Autodesk Gallery in downtown San Francisco. But what exactly is the Autodesk Gallery? We’re glad you asked! The sleek and sustainably-designed exhibition space was born when the AutoCAD software publisher decided to invest $10 million in transforming its 16,500-square-foot briefing center into a showplace for the creations of its customers, which range from Lego (thus the 62,000-brick parasaurolophus pictured at left) to Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. But it’s more than a design showcase. According to the website, the LEED Platinum CI-certified gallery is “a gathering place for Autodesk customers, as well as for the design community in general.”

Fortune‘s Jeffrey M. O’Brien has the scoop on the “new temple of industrial design,” which is open to the public on the first Wednesday of each month and by appointment. “The big idea is to show off the work of our customers as a way to explain design, engineering, and art to people,” Autodesk CEO Carl Bass told O’Brien. “It’s a bit like when you ask kids, ‘Where does food come from?’ and they say, ‘Supermarkets.’ Most people don’t realize that people make real decisions about size, color, and proportions. We wanted to spotlight good design but also focus on the process.”

About 18 months into the project, Bass named a curator for his museum and gave him a directive: Mix it up. The two dozen exhibits include a motion-capture studio like the one James Cameron is using to shoot his next film, Avatar; scale models of the under-construction span of the Bay Bridge; and a Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 concept car, which had to be crane-lifted through a second-story window. Visitors are encouraged to touch and interact with exhibits and to view videos and tutorials.

Once the showroom started to take shape, clients immediately began, well, lobbying for space. Audi execs saw the Shelby GT and insisted on donating their own supercar, the R8. So Autodesk decided to churn the exhibitions every six months. “If it becomes about bragging rights to get in here, I think that’s great,” says Bass.