Petersen Automotive Museum

Los Angeles / United States / 2015

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46 Love 6,567 Visits Published

Located on “Museum Row” of the famed “Miracle Mile”, the new Petersen Museum is a complete exterior transformation and dynamic interior redesign, a major step towards the museum’s goal of rebranding for a more highbrow image. The new design transforms the Petersen building into one of the most significant and unforgettable structures in Los Angeles.


The museum showcases the art, experience, culture, and heritage of the automobile. KPF Design Principal Trent Tesch states, “Housed in a converted department store, the museum finds itself without a deserving image. While the ‘bones’ of the building work well for the display of cars, the expression of the structure lacks imagination.” The original Welton Becket-designed building, formerly the Seibu Department store, had been renovated previously by the Petersen Museum, its façade altered, albeit not dramatically.


The goal was to inject life into the building with minimal intervention producing maximum effect. The client expressed a particular interest in a form with fluid lines and curves. KPF responded by considering how the building could echo the form of the vehicles it would house. The color red is associated with speed, while the building’s undulating ribbons of steel recall distorted scenery in the reflection on a car’s body. The veil of ribbons that wraps the building is intended to evoke the speed and spirit of the automobile, as well as the spirit of Los Angeles architectural culture. A city shaped by car culture, the two are truly inseparable. L.A.’s mid-century modern space age architecture, known as “Googie” is characterized by upswept roofs, curvaceous shapes, and bold use of materials. The design recalls this earlier phase in the city’s architecture, fitting appropriately into the city.


Unlike most museum renovations, which involve complete building teardown, this is a repositioning project. To use the metaphor of a car, if the existing building is a car’s chassis, the design is the body. The bones of the structure remain, and the existing concrete portico on Wilshire is removed. The rooftop becomes converted into a party space which can be rented out. A corrugated aluminum rain screen outboard wraps around the building on each of the three street frontages, giving the museum an entirely new look and feel. “Ribbons” made out of angel hair stainless steel on the front and top, and red painted aluminum on the back and bottom, flow and wrap the building, maneuvering the existing entry vestibule and other apertures. Sitting atop the existing structural system like the body of a car mounted to its frame, the steel “ribbons” evoke a sense of speed and movement and are brushed to avoid creation of glare. At night, the color and forms will be lit from within to accentuate the steel sculpture and act as a beacon on The Miracle Mile.


According to KPF co‐founder and Chairman A. Eugene Kohn, the new design was “intended to express constant motion, suggesting speed, aerodynamics and the movement of air. While its other museum neighbors are the gentlemen in black tie, this is a ballerina.”

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    Located on “Museum Row” of the famed “Miracle Mile”, the new Petersen Museum is a complete exterior transformation and dynamic interior redesign, a major step towards the museum’s goal of rebranding for a more highbrow image. The new design transforms the Petersen building into one of the most significant and unforgettable structures in Los Angeles. The museum showcases the art, experience, culture, and heritage of the automobile. KPF Design Principal Trent Tesch...

    Project details
    • Year 2015
    • Work started in 2014
    • Work finished in 2015
    • Client The Petersen Museum
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Museums
    • Websitehttp://petersen.org/
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