World's First Drive-Through Museum Coming to China


From the Just What We Needed Dept.
Combining China's growing enthusiasm for private museums with its increasing appetite for driving, the new Nanjing Automobile Museum is set to be the world's first drive-through museum.

Visitors drive their cars around the building's angular origami-like spiral to the roof, where they park and continue by descending through the building's exhibits on foot. When they get to the bottom, an elevator shuttles them back up to their waiting cars.

Why didn't someone think of this sooner?

As Architectural Record reported in June,

Visitors to an Automobile Museum planned for Nanjing will drive their cars into the building and up an undulating, uneven ramp to the roof. As designed by 3Gatti.com Architecture Studio, which has offices in Shanghai and Rome, the 15,000-square-meter museum will offer a drive-through experience, as well as exhibitions, restaurants, shops, a special events space, an automobile sales office, a design center, and laboratories to be visited on foot.

"We designed a building geared to the automobile, where the car is the point of reference," says Francesco Gatti, the principal of 3Gatti. Gatti's design is "dedicated to the car as an object of desire, a world to explore, a technology to study and an article to display," explains the architect. He imagines "a dynamic building with surfaces that are continuous and fluid, without interruptions," so it recalls the sensation of moving along a road, explains Gatti.

The design strikes a different chord from another prominent Italian-Chinese collaboration: a continuing partnership for environmental protection. One proud result has been the Sino-Italian Tsinghua Environment and Energy Efficient Building, a research center plastered in solar panels (though most of the high-tech materials came from Italy, and it's said to be weak at passive cooling and heating).

Technically, the Nanjing museum may not be the world's first drive-through museum. In 2004, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor opened, paying homage to the first coast-to-coast road across America -- from Times Square to San Francisco -- which was completed in 1925. But that museum is actually a 200-mile long road with stops along the way, not a parking lot-as-museum.

Frank Lloyd Wright Was Here
If the design of the Nanjing museum looks familiar, that's because Frank Lloyd Wright designed something like it eighty years ago. His un-built (and wonderfully-named) 1925 Gordon Strong Automobile Objective for Frederick, MD, also relied on a similar rotunda for cars. Wright, who detested density and loved the automobile, would of course borrow the idea for his crowning achievement, New York's Guggenheim Museum.


Wright's Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, 1925

Though the Guggenheim's rotunda is for people, not cars, it was a Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, who introduced a few automobiles into the space last year.

But not as Shanghai Automotive might have envisioned: Cai's cars were tumbling through the middle of the rotunda, action-movie style.


A different sort of car exhibit. From I Want to Believe (2008), Cai Guo-Qiang
A Monument to China's Growing Car Love
The exhibits in Nanjing probably won't feature any blown-up cars. They are intended to showcase instead Nanjing's role as an important automobile manufacturing center.

For all of the hype surrounding China's green revolution, the museum is a reminder of the special place the car has achieved in the Bicycle Kingdom, both for consumers and the largely state-run industry that manufactures them. (There is a bicycle museum, in Bazhou, Hebei, where the exhibits, report People's Daily, "will make you long for the good old days.")

But how cool would it have been if the Nanjing government, one of the clients, had demanded the building be designed with energy-efficiency and natural ventilation in mind, something like what Coop-Himmelblau did with the BMW Welt in Munich?

In any case, it will be interesting to see to what place the country's much-hyped electric cars will have in the museum when it opens, likely next year.

Renderings: 3Gatti.com
More Cars in China at TreeHugger
My Car: Italian Designed, Chinese Built
To Chinese, Cars First, then Sustainable Consumption
Why China Loves Transformers (And Why We Should All Be A Little Worried
China's Cars Come in Green: the Shanghai Auto Show
Chang'an Rolls Out Its First Hybrid
China Cars: Public Enemy No. 1
The Race to Build a Car for Less than $3000

Tags: China | Driving

2014 Gift Guide

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK