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Need for Speed
Petersen Museum reveals high-octane makeover in Los Angeles.
Courtesy Petersen Automotive Museum

Not to be outdone by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), located across the street, LA’s Petersen Automotive Museum Sunday released the final design for a facelift that promises, according to officials, to transform the facility on Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row into “one of the most significant and unforgettable structures in Los Angeles.” Moreover, they claim the makeover will lift the Petersen into the ranks of “world-class” museums.

The ribboned, LED-illuminated, stainless-steel facade treatment that Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) has come up with is indeed radically transformative. It would turn the near-windowless former department store that the museum has called home since 1992 into a larger-than-life statement on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.


The original building, which will be hidden underneath KPF’s reimagined facade, was designed by Los Angeles architect Welton Becket in 1962. Becket is perhaps best known for his design of the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. According to the museum the renovation, which includes an extensive redesign of existing galleries and 15,000 square feet of additional gallery space, will not significantly alter the original Becket building’s base. In terms of the facade treatment, however, it’s a completely new direction, and gives Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s “veil” for the Broad Museum, currently underway downtown, a run for its money.

But is this enough to bring the Petersen new visitors and increase repeat visits to 60 percent of its daily attendance, as the museum hopes? The museum has reportedly been criticized for selling off a number of its rare automobiles to raise money for the renovation. On Sunday, Peter Mullin, chairman of the museum’s board, said the $10 million raised from the sale of cars would be used to enhance the collection and the galleries. A separate capital campaign will fund the facade. The budget for the total renovation could go as high as $20 million. With all that undulating stainless steel they are going to need it.

Guy Horton