Molecule Man Sculpture

Molecule Man Sculpture

In Little Tokyo, you can see a tall aluminum sculpture of four figures filled with holes in front of a government building.

A Brief History of Molecule Man

Sculptor Jonathan Borofsky first came up with the idea for a series of Molecule Man sculptures in 1977. As he tells it, “I was fascinated by this molecule idea because of the simple fact that even though we appear to be quite solid, we are in fact composed of a molecule structure which, in itself is mostly composed of water and air.”

Molecule Man: Water and Air. Photo from the author’s collection.

Over the years different Molecule Man sculptures have been installed in various places around the city (and the world), but the one most people in Los Angeles see is a mirror-like melding of four 32-foot tall figures made from aluminum plates that dominates a concrete courtyard in front of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Little Tokyo.

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This rendition of Molecule Man consists of four of Barofsky’s iconic multi-perforated figures, facing one another, mouths open and their arms blending into one another.

Molecule Man. Not confrontational. Photo from the author’s collection.

It looks somewhat confrontational, but the figures are intended to represent four teammates celebrating a victory, an interpretation of a photo from a cover of Sports Illustrated. It expands on Barofsky’s initial thoughts about Molecule Man, representing “… molecules coming together, molecules working together with common goals.”

Molecule Man. Common Goals. Photo from the author’s collection.

This four-figure Molecule Man was installed in 1991, just before the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse opened. The building is named for the former City Councilman from the 9th District and 30-year U.S. Congressman representing California’s 25th and 30th districts. It houses the offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration, among other federal agencies and courtrooms.

Molecule Man. Government office on the left. Roybal Federal Building on the right. Photo from the author’s collection.

Molecule Man is planted just outside the building in a courtyard known as the Roybal Federal Building Park (it’s not really much of a park). Opposite the Roybal Building, the sculpture sits next to a building that houses a Post Office, the I.R.S. Headquarters, and Homeland Security . It also sits squarely between the Metropolitan Detention Center and Parker Center, which at the time was the headquarters of the L.A.P.D.

Other Molecule Man Sculptures

The most famous Molecule Man in the world is 100 feet tall and can be seen in Berlin, Germany. This version, comprised of three figures, was installed on the banks of the Spree River in Berlin, one of the demarcation lines between West and East Berlin, where it signifies unity.

There’s also a three-figure Molecule Man on Bass Pro Drive in Council Bluffs Iowa — and right in front of a pizza and wings joint.

There used to be an 11-foot-tall, two-figure, two-dimensional Molecule Man from 1983 on display in Beverly Hills at 501 S Beverly Dr. It’s no longer there, but you can get a glimpse of it with Google Street View.

One More From Barofsky

If the name Jonathan Barofsky sounds familiar, that’s because he’s also the creative force behind Clownerina, the Ballerina Clown of Venice.

Molecule Man Sculpture

  • 255 East Temple Avenue (at Judge John Aiso Street), Little Tokyo,
  • GPS Coordinates: 34.052651, -118.239618 [ Google Maps ]
  • what3words: ///

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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