The Petersen Automotive Museum has released high-res renderings of its Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates Associates redesign. As promised, the overall form looks like a car from certain angles. I imagine the trippy steel ribbons against a red backdrop (LED-backlighted at night) will get most of the attention, though. Is it beautiful? Is it ugly? Hold this and let me get a picture.
The best description I’ve heard so far is “a department store wrapped in bacon.” The department store is the long-forgotten Seibu, outpost of a Japanese retailer designed by Welton Becket (left) and later converted to an Orbach’s. The Russell Group slapped on some carwash detailing, and it became the present Petersen Museum. Kohn Pedersen Fox’s design with likewise retain Becket’s big box. Arch Daily reports that ”the original building will undergo these renovations without any major architectural changes itself.”
That makes it a decorated shed in the the Robert Venturi/Denise Scott Brown/Steven Izenour terminology. A decorated shed is a relatively economical and conventional building with fake, look-at-me decoration. The prime example is the Darwinian competition of facades on the Las Vegas strip. Neither “decorated shed” nor Las Vegas was intended as a put-down. Venturi and company championed the decorated shed as a post-modern reaction to the dictum of form follows function.
The Kohn Pedersen Fox fantasia is not architecture so much as camouflage, and it’s also the complete opposite of camouflage, being a relentless machine for harvesting eyeballs and page views. One analogy is the “dazzle camouflage” used by World War I-era navies, an eye-catching abstraction that made it hard to discern a battleship’s size, shape, and distance. (At bottom of post, Edward Wadsworth’s Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool .) Today dazzle camouflage is mainly used to disguise the appearance of car prototypes being road-tested.
Unlike the Zumthor LACMA or the Piano-Pali Academy Museum, the bacon-wrapped Petersen appears to be a done deal. Margie Petersen gave the museum $100 million in 2011, and the ongoing liquidation of a third of the car collection is netting cash that is apparently earmarked for anything. It’s reported that the construction on the Kohn Pedersen Fox design ”is expected to take 14 to 16 months and to be completed in early 2013.” That confident prediction would imply groundbreaking in a few months.