Why Walk Though a Museum, When You Can Drive?

Just when you thought — or at least hoped — the Automobile Age was sputtering to its inglorious end, China went and planned itself a car museum.

Chinese car museum

Just when you thought the Automobile Age was sputtering to its fateful end, China comes along with a car mania that easily beats anything that's ever been seen in the West. And if you needed any more proof—other than the fact that China's automotive fleet is expected to rise nearly 400% in the next 10 years, to 217 million—China is planning a brand-new car museum. Not just any car museum. A drive-through car museum.

What would seem gratuitous and gross anywhere else just kind of makes sense in go-go capitalist China, right?

Chinese car museum

The proposed building, by Francesco Gatti of Rome and Shanghai, looks exactly as it should — like a glorified parking garage. Visitors cruise up a ramp that encircles the exhibition space (see above) until they reach a top-floor lot. From there, they descend by foot into the core of the museum. With glass every which way, everyone and everything is self-consciously on display: the motorists, the pedestrians, and, oh yeah, the cars. It's like a Saturday night on Sunset Boulevard.

The idea's decent enough. Car culture has never been about beautiful machines alone, freighted, as it is, with social meaning. So to mount a cinematic celebration of its voyeuristic aspects and the conspicuous consumerism of it all is kind of clever (if maybe unintentional).

Chinese car museum

But the devil's in the details. Why, for instance, is the building shaped like origami? Did the architect mix up his Asian countries? And practically speaking, the ramp just sounds like a bad idea. Museums are supposed to be relaxing. Walking around in fear that a driver, distracted by the very same sorbet-colored 1957 T-Bird you're admiring, will come crashing into you at any moment? Not relaxing.

Nor do museum-goers want to breathe in exhaust. (Though it appears the main exhibition halls will be behind glass and guarded from the fumes.) Then there's the whole matter of how you return to your car after taking in the sights. "In the China of opposites, those who have the economic means to possess a car also have the means to have a personal chauffeur," Gatti says. Put another way: Better call your driver. (For mere mortals, there's also an elevator.) Great, so the museum will promote bad driving, smog, and smug rich people. It very well may be the most fitting tribute to cars ever made.

Chinese car museum

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  • Kay Edwards

    Dear writer and editors,

    This is the sloppiest and most careless piece of writing that has come out of what used to be a respected magazine, until just now. The only piece of source quoted is www.dezeen.com that publishes all sorts of design work, both built and speculative. And when the writer comes across what appears to be a laughable and questionable design, it becomes so convenient to pick on China without first checking the facts, the details of the competition, etc. Why not pick on the designer as well - yes the one who actually came up with the proposal.

    But yes, you did pick on the architect on mixing up Asian countries. No he did not because 'origami' *did* originate from China - ori gami is a word-for-word translation of "fold paper" in Chinese. Please, please, please, do some basic research before submitting your future articles.

    Sarcasm, self-righteousness, and ignorance certainly does nothing to help you or the stature of your magazine. And really, your bratty tone gives us Americans a terrible name. What exactly is your problem with China?

  • GK Rowe

    Wow, I'm shocked. This takes experience design to a new level - have the boundaries been lost already?