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Redesigned ribbon-facade Petersen Museum selected for architecture award

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Photos courtesy Petersen Automotive Museum.

Polarizing? Sure. Criticized? Of course. But the Petersen Automotive Museum’s undulating steel ribbon facade can now be described as award-winning after the Chicago Athenaeum International Museum selected the museum as one of its 2017 American Architecture Award winners.

The American Architecture Award was created to recognize “design excellence and for the best and finest contributions to innovative contemporary American architecture.” This year’s awards went to 79 new buildings located in America or designed by American architects.

“The winning projects are each stunning and provocative new additions to their urban and rural locations — authentic connections to nature and to the very cultures in which they coexist,” said Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, president of the Chicago Athenaeum. “This year, there was a considerable emphasis on restoration, renovation, and adaptive reuse as the Green Revolution continues to impact cities and the buildings in which we live, work, pray, and become educated and culturally refined.”

Though the Chicago Athenaeum doesn’t specify which attributes qualify individual buildings for the awards, the Los Angeles-based Petersen did reuse an existing building, both during its foundation in 1994 and during its recent renovation. That building originally opened in 1962 as the Seibu Japanese department store, later inhabited by Ohrbach’s, another department store. After Ohrbach’s closed in 1986, it remained vacant until Robert and Margie Petersen bought it to convert into their museum dedicated to the history of the automobile in Southern California.

The museum retained its Sixties facade until late 2014, when it shut down for an extensive remodeling announced the year prior. The 300,000-square-foot building then reopened in December 2015 with the ribbon facade designed by New York-based architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, which, according to a 2013 press release, makes “a visceral statement that evokes the imagery of speed and the organic curves of a coach-built automobile.” Museum officials at the time noted that the redesign was meant to reflect the idea that they considered the vehicles within as works of art.

The Los Angeles Times has referred to the redesign as “happily tasteless,” and the “Edsel of architecture… gloriously bad.”

Nevertheless, the Petersen made the Athenaeum’s cut, narrowed down from a list of 300 submissions. Nor is the recent award the first for the revamped museum – the International Historic Motoring Awards last year gave it the Museum or Collection of the Year Award.

Other winners of the 2017 American Architecture Awards include the Burj 2020 in Dubai, Liberty Park in New York City, and MIT’s Kresge Auditorium restoration in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Petersen is the only automotive museum selected for this year’s awards. In addition to the awards presentation on April 27 at the Chicago Athenaeum, the Athenaeum will also present an exhibition of the award winners in Athens, Greece.

For more information about the awards, visit For more information about the Petersen, visit