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America's Car Museum

America's Car Museum

Client: LeMay Museum
Location: Tacoma, Washington
189,000 sf
Type III Construction

The LeMay Museum is 189,000 square feet of display space spread out over five levels. The project is located on an open space between two freeways and a convention center in the city of Tacoma, Washington.

The museum is the largest automobile museum in the world and has access to the largest collection of privately owned vehicles in the world. This size and the specificity of program required very different criteria than a typical museum.

Display area of each vehicle, was almost the size of a typical museum room. Instead of a few feet per painting on a wall, each vehicle required upwards of five hundred square feet of display space.

Ramps or elevators were required for frequent vehicle movement and circulation. Turning clearances, drive isles, engine emissions, motor oil and mechanical fluids needed to be accounted for.

The solution we employed was a series of ramps laid out in form of a double helix. Vertical circulation became the exhibits with cars displayed along the ramp. This allowed for efficiency, as well as visitor travel throughout free of back tracking.

To achieve an open, column-less space, we used laminated wood beams with glass walls at either end. The grand hall, at 45 feet in height, was designed as the world’s largest wood moment frame structure.

The museum’s asymmetrical shell echoes the form of an automobile’s shell built over a rectilinear chassis.

To further strengthen this likeness, the building is wrapped in a standing metal seam roof, which emphasizes the sculptural form.

The LeMay museum has been awarded most popular museum in the Northwest, a strong indication of a successful design, especially considering the smaller audience likely to patronize a car museum.