LA's Petersen Automotive Museum reopens with KPF-designed metal-ribbon facade

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The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles reopened this week following an extensive renovation, featuring a new wavy steel and aluminium facade designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (+ slideshow).

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

The museum, established in 1994, showcases championship-winning race cars, art cars, notable motorcycles, vehicles from Hollywood films, and other memorable vehicles.

It occupies a former department store on Museum Row in downtown LA, which was built in 1962 and designed by Welton Becket, a well-known contemporary LA architect who died in 1969.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Global firm KPF was commissioned to revamp the building's exterior, while local studio The Scenic Route was tasked with updating the interior.

The building is now wrapped in a total of 308 metal ribbons, each uniquely designed. The front and bottom surfaces are made of stainless steel, while the back and top surfaces are made of textured aluminium coated with "hot-rod red" paint.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

"I am proud to announce that the new Petersen Automotive Museum is open on schedule, on budget and with interior and exterior designs that are even more stunning then the concept renderings – and that is a rare feat in both the architecture and museum worlds," said Terry Karges, the museum's executive director.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

"We have transformed a building that was once an old department store into one of the most groundbreaking structures in Los Angeles," Karges added. "What's inside is just as stunning, including a three-storey spiral staircase that transports visitors through 25 galleries representing the history, industry and artistry of the automobile."

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

The new facade is supported by 25 vertical tubular steel supports and horizontal beams. Custom-designed stainless steel screws – 140,000 in total – were fabricated for the project to imitate the appearance of early 20th-century automobile fasteners.

The exterior is illuminated by 866 individually controlled LED fixtures.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Inside, the museum's exhibition space totals 95,000 square feet (8,825 square metres), over three storeys.

The visitor experience is intended to begin on the top storey, which is dedicated to the history of the automobile. Pieces on view includes concept cars from the 1950s and 1960s, the Batmobile from the Batman comics, and the red Ferrari that Magnum PI drove in the 1980s TV series.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

The upper floor also showcases the exhibition Southern California: A Region in Motion, which uses interactive videos to demonstrate how LA "grew out, instead of up, like most cities".



The middle level, named the Industry Floor, presents a series of exhibits related to design, technology and production.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Visitors can see a collection of the world's rarest cars, all finished in silver, including a 1995 McLaren F1 and a 1964 Aston Matin DB5 driven by James Bond in the film Goldfinger.

Also on this level is a life-size version of Lighting McQueen, the racing vehicle featured in the animated movie Cars, and an Alternative Power exhibit, which showcases the history and future of alternative fuel vehicles.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Other exhibits on this floor include Made in Italy: Design to Line, which demonstrates how luxury cards go from rendering to reality, and Motorsports, which presents some of the fastest and most seminal race cars of all time. The Motorsports display area features a 134-foot (40 metres), 180-degree projection wall, which immerses visitors in the race-track experience.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

The ground floor features "artfully designed vehicles from history, often regarded as rolling sculpture". The Artistry of the Automobile exhibition features coach-built cars from the Art Deco era and a 166-foot (50 metres) display wall with motion graphic art inspired by the golden ratio, a geometric relationship favoured by many designers.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Also on the ground level is the BMW Art Cars exhibition, which includes the first car created within the series: a 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL painted by American artist Alexander Calder.

Additionally, a shop, restaurant and offices are situated on this floor.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

The museum is located at the gateway of LA's famed Museum Row, which features buildings such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), originally designed by William Pereira, with additions and renovations by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, Bruce Goff, Renzo Piano, and others.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Piano has designed a museum for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which is slated to rise on Museum Row. The project, unveiled in 2012, received approval from the city council this summer, according to reports.

LA is in the midst of a construction boom, with many saying the Californian city has become the hottest destination in the US for architects.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF

Recently completed projects include The Broad art museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which opened in September. In Beverly Hills, Chinese firm MAD is planning its first US project – a residential block modelled on a hilltop village.

LA resident Frank Gehry has several significant projects underway. On Grand Avenue, he has designed a mixed-use development opposite his Walt Disney Concert Hall. He is also masterplanning an overhaul of the run-down LA River, and has unveiled plans for a five-building complex on Sunset Strip.

Images courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum.

Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF
Ground floor plan – click for larger image
Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF
First floor plan – click for larger image
Petersen Automotive Museum by KPF
Second floor plan – click for larger image
  • Roberto Sideris

    Interesting exterior design but the interior is rather dull and similar to other museums. There isn’t an appearance of the red or flowing lines of the exterior within. The reason this was delivered within time and within budget was because they forgot about adding individuality to the interior, although the polished concrete floor is attractive.

  • Adam

    I just don’t get it.

  • gfdc

    In case you were wondering what the difference between a so-called “design firm” and so-called “corporate office” is… this is the difference.

  • H-J

    Decorated duck.

  • guisforyou

    Every cake needs its frosting.

  • Redsub

    It’s hard to beat broad-based hatred of a work for establishing an artist or architect as groundbreaking and important. KPF was previously known as middle-ground-competent dull when it came to design. Now, they’ve accomplished something worthwhile. Being old enough to remember the opening of Wright’s Guggenheim, it met with quite a few similar emotional reactions at the time. The Petersen is comparable work of genius.

    • Meme

      How can you say so? Wright’s Guggenheim is permeated by a strong architectural idea. Petersen is just a skin on a box, a meaningless skin.

      • And that poor zen-like box on the roof that used to float on water… surrounded by gift wrapping after the kiddies have torn it off. Sad!

    • guisforyou

      When I put on a hat, it doesn’t make me any better.

  • archsimple

    The building skin looks like a cheesy tattoo.

  • tony365

    Not only is this hideous, it’s also not anywhere near Downtown.

    • Good catch! Google map fail.

      • tony365

        Is that why? Huh. Funny how we just trust those map functions, if that’s the case.

  • Nick

    Conceptual design is not their forte.

  • Mark Sanchez

    This building design is the most fantastical in Los Angeles since the Walt Disney Hall by Frank Geary. The Broad is also quite a beautiful building. It’s funny to me that most folks can’t stand certain architecture when it is unveiled, only to have it used years later as a cultural landmark.

    • tony365

      This in not even close to the Disney Hall or The Broad (there both ugly too). This is a old department store with a shinny chrome and candy-apple-red ribbon on it! It’s decoration not design! Also Angelenos will call anything a cultural landmark.

  • Gilbert Fernandez

    That fifth picture looks like a ball of magma.

  • Gilbert Fernandez

    That fifth picture looks like a ball of magma.