Monday, December 14, 2015

Consider This

Petersen Automotive Museum
Los Angeles, California
Hello Everyone:

Los Angeles is car city; so it only stands to reason that there should be a museum dedicated to all things automotive.  While building automotive museum in Detroit, the birthplace of the American auto industry, Los Angeles has the honor of hosting the Petersen Automotive Museum (  Just from standing across the street from the museum, yours truly can attest to the garish nature of the exterior.  It is loud-in a visual sense.  Christopher Hawthorne uses a more biblical metaphor review for the Los Angeles Times, "Review Petersen Automotive Museum's new look conveys a happily tasteless exterior."  He writes,

It would be extreme-irresponsible, really-to suggest that staring too long at the new facade of the Petersen Automotive Museum, set to open Monday after a $90 million makeover, might leave you cross-eyed, cause your hair to spontaneously catch fire or turn you, Old Testament style, into a pillar of salt.

Your reaction to the exterior may not be quite that extreme but you definitely cannot look away.

Petersen Automotive Museum under construction
The museum's visually cluttered exterior was designed by Gene Kohn and Trent Teach of the New York-based architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox.  The exterior is usually raucous for a firm known for more reserved work.  It is the kind of exterior that requires some sort of eye protection.  Perhaps the Los Angeles City Planning Department might consider installing some sort of four-way warning system for drivers and pedestrian approaching the museum's Wilshire Boulevard location.  Perhaps you should consider wearing eye protection.  consider this post your push notice.

Interior rendering of the Petersen Automotive Museum
Blogger reckons that this "architectural equivalent of a solar eclipse..." seems to fall in line with latest architectural oddity Peter Zumthor has in mind for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Buildings that fall into the category of Architectural WTFs.  Mr. Hawthorne opines,

If you were feeling generous, inclined to look for connections between the exterior of the new Petersen and the displays, you might glimpse inside the museum's heaving architectural profile-here soaring and bending, there sagging and fall in on itself-some relevant, even upbeat reflections of car cultures, of movement and speed.

Movement and speed is definitely the impression the stainless-steel bands, enveloping the exterior, conveys to the drivers and pedestrians.

Metropolis II
Chris Burden
Christopher Hawthorne suggests that the passerby might be able to distinguish the chrome bands against the taillight red background.  He writes, "You might be reminded of Chris Burden's roadway fantasia 'Metropolis II,' a piece of art filled with 1,100 miniature toy cars..., or the 1973  J.G. Ballard 'Crash,' with its description of highway flyovers laid atop 'one another like copulating giants, straddling each other's back.'"

However, feeling more generous, Mr. Hawthorne writes, "Or you could acknowledge that the true impact of the design, with its stainless-steel ribbons draped over a three-story, blood-red box, is even more entertaining and populist than that, if also a little gorier."  To say that the new facade is extroverted would be an understatement.  Exuberant would be a better word choice.  Blogger would describe it more like go disco and being instantly assaulted by the bright neon lights, the mirror ball, and the thumping beat of the music.  The Petersen Automotive Museum is already storming the social media sites with pictures and updates on Instagram.  (petersenmuseum)

Black Blob version 2.0
Geography plays an important part for the museum.  Recently, there seems to be a game of one-upmanship going  along the Wilshire Boulevard corridor between Hauser and Fairfax Avenues.  Both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have announced ambitious expansion plans.  LACMA is absolutely determined to dog-straddle Peter Zumthor's black blob across Wilshire (did you really think blogger forgot about that).  AMPAS has, somehow, found a way to get Italian architect Renzo Piano to design a "Death Star-"like extension that has the old May Company building locked in its tractor beam.  The icing on the cake, LACMA, Frank Gehry, and Metropolitan Transit Authority are in talks to design a subway station along Wilshire, east of the Petersen Museum.  The Petersen Museum, you ask?  Oh, it just decided to go right to the nuclear option, destroying "...even the possibility of any thoughtful debate about what its building is trying to accomplish or how it might relate to those future neighbors."

Mullen Gallery
Petersen Automotive Museum
 If you want to be charitable, you could note "...that wide gap between the guileless enthusiasm of the remade exterior, its absolute and endearing refusal to be embarrassed, and the well-appointed highly rational interiors..., which include wide callers on three floors and a tastefully eye-catching staircase twisting from one level to the next."  You could be charitable but let us be honest, the image on the left kind of reminds blogger of an ideal shiny showroom floor.  You could also say "...that the portions of the building where ribbons frame outdoor rooms, both on the roof and along the sidewalk have real presence, creating...'cages' of semi-enclosed space." You could also point out that prior to the placement of the stainless-steel bands, the red box momentarily looked beautiful, "...a kind of accidental oversized hommage to Bernard Tschumi's Parc de la Villette in Paris."

Petersen Automotive Museum before the renovation
 You could also recall the Petersen Automotive Museum's brush with infamy.  The corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue was the place where rapper Christopher Wallace (Notorious B.I.G.) was killed in the passenger seat of a green Suburban by a man driving a black Impala after leaving a party at the museum in 1997.  His path was blocked by a white Land Cruiser, combining blood and the parade of cars- unconsciously referenced by the new facade-finally giving Biggie his memorial.

You could also conclude that design was the product of an architectural firm, trying to keep up with "the kids" by letting the digital savants run wild with Rhino (the three-dimensional modeling software).  You can even say that the relentless cheerfulness of the facade reminds you of one of those over eager motivational speakers.  "You have to get in there every day and give it 100 percent.  Smile with your eyes, not just your mouth.  Be passionate about your work." Et cetera, ad nauseum.

Ohrbach's Department Store c.1978
Welton Becket
 You can even admit you have a sentimental spot for the original 1962, Welton Becket designed home for the Japanese department store Seibu, later Ohrbach's Department Store.  The former department store is now completely encased beneath its glowing red skin, as is the 1994 redesign with its row of Cadillac fin columns, shamelessly referencing car culture.  Christopher Hawthorne observes, "And while giving the Petersen credit for preserving at least the structure of the original Seibu tea house on the roof."  You can consider the renovated Petersen in context to the demise of the car culture in relation to the expansion of freeway gridlock and public transit.

Rendering of pre-renovation Petersen Automotive Museum
You could ask yourself if the already busy corner of Wilshire and Fairfax really needs the endorsement of a Hollywood blockbuster-type building.  Think of it this way, the architect is pandering to potential ticket buyers in the same manner as a studio head green lighting the Marvel superhero movie.  Think of this part of Wilshire Boulevard as anime gone wild.  Architecture is a slow moving media.  Buildings, unlike the latest Iron Man movie, are meant to last.

Mercedes Benz Museum, 2006
Stuttgart, Germany
Finally, you can consider the Mercedes Benz Museum, by the Dutch firm UNStudio, " proof that 21st-century temples to automotive design can be meaningful pieces of architecture, sophisticated enough to hold their own against the cars they hold, and unapologetic crowd pleasers at the same time."

You take all of Christopher Hawthorne's keen observations of the Petersen Automotive Museum into consideration but let blogger have the final word.  As someone who lives in the Miracle Mile area and watches the ongoing construction, yours truly can say that whether or not this rash of museum building is good thing is still up in the air.  While yours truly believes that Michael Govan, the director of LACMA, and his counterpart at the Petersen Museum are earnest in their efforts to create an "arts hub" in the Miracle Mile.  Yours truly wonders why this latest incarnation of the Petersen Automotive Museum must be so visually cluttered when considering the excellent example of Streamline Deco sitting directly across it.  The Petersen Museum is now open to the public, the ultimate test of the museum's success.

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