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Mercurial Motorshow by Morphosis

Proposed museum for vintage cars by Morphosis mixes influences from geomorphism to the commercial strip and beyond

Originally published in AR September 1992, this piece was republished online in April 2011

On the classic film noir location of Sunset Boulevard, this proposed museum for vintage cars mixes influences from geomorphism to the commercial strip and beyond, to stage an enthralling kinetic homage to California’s favourite commodity, the automobile.

This unrealised project for a vintage car museum in West Hollywood is perhaps the ultimate paradigm of Sunshine State lifestyle - a lavish deification of the automobile, which has had such a prodigious physical and psychological influence on California’s evolution as a car-fixated society. And where more appropriate to stage this exquisite homage than on Sunset Boulevard, immortalised in the film of the same name, when William Holden evades the clutches of (ironically) the car repossession posse, by pulling into Gloria Swanson’s drive.

The proposed museum has facilities for displaying around 60 automobiles, combined with a number of secondary spaces. These include a restaurant, cafe, offices, retail outlets, a huge subterranean parking lot and most unexpectedly of all, three units of housing. From the outset, certain pragmatic and conceptual concerns informed the intricate, geomorphically inspired design. Contextually, the building squares up to the site and surroundings. These are typically LA schizophrenic, with a bawdy commercial strip to the north diametrically opposing the calmer, residential fringe on the southern side. The site is also topographically extreme, dropping over 30 feet from north-west corner to south-east corner.

The resulting scheme attempts to resolve the visual impact of the building’s massing through the presence of a bunker-like, ground hugging roof structure that effectively becomes a podium for two key elements - a distended lift tower which coolly mimics the form of the adjacent multi-storey office block, and a curvilinear rooftop restaurant. These controlled discrepancies of scale and form can be interpreted as a microcosm of their surroundings, but at the same time challenge the existing order by scrambling the basic Los Angeles urban language through lyrical contortions of plane and geometry.

Organisationally, the building is arranged around a cubic structural grid and a racetrack-shaped car circulation ramp, bound together by a matrix of peripheral, edge-defining incidents. Physically, the building can be experienced from a car or on foot. Pedestrians enter from the commercial strip side on Sunset Boulevard, which brings them into the museum at mid level. A courtyard directly off the street serves as a public mingling space, with access to the building’s various floors by means of lift or stairs. The cafe is tantalisingly located half a level down, so encouraging further exploration.

Conversely, vehicular access is off a side street, on the east side of the building. As cars descend to the basement, their drivers’ curiosity is heightened by glimpses of the museum through apertures in the curved enclosing wall. Vintage automobiles are serviced by the elaborate central lift, which is split into two cab-like compartments connected by a giant truss, over 60 feet high.

The lower compartment transports cars from the storage area to the museum floors as well as passengers within the museum. The upper compartment is used as an interchangeable display for noteworthy vintage specimens and is transformed into an eyecatching kinetic sign for the building as it moves up and down above the roofline, like a surreal periscope, synchronised by the regular yo-yoing action of the lower compartment.

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