Petersen Automotive Museum, a Los Angeles showroom of high-styled cars, trucks and motorcycles from around the world, is celebrating its 20th year by revamping its look inside and make the statement that car design is an art experience.
Chairman of the Board Peter Mullin told the press that he wants “to give the people of Los Angeles and the world a place where they can be immersed in the culture, sights and sounds of the greatest vehicles ever built.”
Architects for the facade, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, are using rolling, undulating stripes of steel - reportedly to convey road curves. But to this writer’s eye, the ripply curves suggests rows of fender benders.
The look is plainly dizzying and reminiscent of London’s Evelyn Grace Academy with its woozy zigzag of steel and glass designed by architect Zaha Hadid. And just as a zigzag configuration seems dislocated in a place of learning, a punch-drunk appearance at a car museum is an equally bad idea. Both seem more fitting for an amusement park.
Architecture unrelated to the goings-on within its walls is nothing new. I’m thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright’s cylindrical stack that forms the Guggenheim Museum in New York. You can tell from his avowed intent – to make the Metropolitan Museum “look like a Protestant barn” - that he had his own agenda in mind, not that of an art museum. A lot of artists who exhibit there were outraged.
In 1956, 21 of the most celebrated painters of the day, including Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, signed a letter of complaint. Their main objection was that Wright’s helical spiral walls make hanging square and rectangular canvases difficult. “The interior is not suitable for a sympathetic display,” their letter said. “The basic concept of curvilinear slope indicates a callous disregard for the fundamental rectilinear frame of reference necessary for the adequate visual contemplation of works of art.”
It's obvious, or should be, that when you design a building for a specific activity, you need to restrain self-indulgent flights of fancy. And these architects know better. All are award-winners renowned for their work.
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the largest architecture firm in New York City, styled The World Bank Headquarters I D.C. with a fitting air of strength and balance.
Zaha Hadid’s projects include the Museum of 21st Century Art in Rome, which comes across as appropriately futuristic.
And when it comes to domestic architecture, Wright believed strongly in design in harmony with nature. His Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA is known as “the best all-time work of American architecture.”
One wonders, then, if all the awards and honors these master-builders won went to their heads and each tried to outdo the other, client’s needs be damned.