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The New Porsche Museum

The new monochromatic steel structure at Porscheplatz is designed to be a symbolic icon of the "Porsche Idea" presented, in all its complexity, inside. More than three decades after the original Porsche Museum opened in Stuttgart, Germany, the family-owned automaker invested more than $130 million in an all-new facility to present the storied history of the marque. The new museum is designed to welcome more than 200,000 visitors each year. In addition to the 80 historic vehicles on rolling display, the inspiring building houses a workshop for restoration, historical archives and generous conference areas.

With more than 30 years of engineering expertise already under his belt, Ferdinand Porsche opened his own office for "engineering and consultation on engine and vehicle design" in Stuttgart, Germany, on April 25, 1931. The history of Porsche, the automaker, had officially started. Over the next four decades, the company historically launched as "Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche KG" would engineer, manufacture and successfully race some of the most influential vehicles in automotive history.

The first Porsche Museum opened its doors in 1976. Located in Zuffenhausen, a district of Stuttgart, the original museum was small and intimate. It was only large enough for about 20 exhibits, although there were literally hundreds of near-pristine cars in storage out of the public’s eye. Nearly five years ago, Porsche set out to build an all-new museum. The new museum would be significantly larger than the original, and it would include an operating workshop, historical archive center open to the public, conference center, coffee bar, museum shop and upscale restaurant. More than 170 architects from all over Europe applied for the project. In 2005, the bid was won by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects based in Vienna, Austria. Construction started in October of 2005, and was completed in December of 2008.

Delugan Meissl’s winning architecture features a spectacular "floating" museum supported on several massive pylons. Much more impressive (and imposing) in person, the angular exterior of the museum is finished in monochromatic white, offset by panels of polished stainless steel and glazed glass. Underneath the façade is a sophisticated three-dimensional lattice framework engineered from high-strength steel and reinforced pre-stressed concrete. Together, they bear the weight of the 35,000-ton exhibition hall hovering above. Below ground level, and hidden from view, is the building’s multi-story parking garage. Sitting prominently in the middle of Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen at Porscheplatz, the dramatic architecture is striking in a European city that traces its roots back more than 2,000 years.

Entering the museum, visitors are drawn in as they descend a sloping ramp from the street. The gaping monolith opening is more than 30-feet tall, with embedded illumination in the ground reflected by the polished stainless panels far above. It is impressive, and it sets the tone immediately and rather dramatically. Mirroring the exterior, the interior of the Porsche Museum adopts the same monochromatic appearance. According to the designers, many different types of vehicles, in all shapes, sizes, and colors, would be on display. To avoid unnecessary distraction, a near seamless stark appearance was a necessity. The floors are a crystal wth synthetic glass/stone mixture that is impervious to chemical staining, while the walls are finished with a bright white seamless synthetic acrylic polymer material (it looks and feels much like Dupont’s solid surface Corian).

Paying the €8 admission fee (about $10), visitors are met by the coffee bar directly ahead, and the museum store off to the right. Enthusiasts will bypass both as their eyes are immediately drawn to the large glass walls in the middle of the first floor. Framed on the other side is the operating workshop, a place where Porsche restores and repairs both vehicle exhibits and cars owned by customers. Opposite the workshop is the escalator bank carrying guests nearly 100 feet into the upper part of the building, and the heart of the 53,800 square foot exhibition space.

The exhibition floor spirals around logically in a contiguous chronological path. The automaker has divided the displays into two groups: the history of Porsche prior to 1948 and the history of Porsche after 1948 (the first vehicle with a Porsche badge was a 356 Roadster built in 1948). All told, there are about 80 vehicles represented in the museum. As most all of the cars are in running condition, a fact verified by their ongoing participation in historic races worldwide, Porsche will be moving cars in and out of the displays as needed. It is a decision that will undoubtedly encourage repeat visits and has little effect on the overall presentation.

With the exception of the vehicles on raised platforms along the walls, nearly all of the cars are openly presented on the floor sans barriers or barricades. While one would expect the mostly all-white museum to bathe exhibits harshly, the overall illumination is soft. Each of the cars is spotlighted individually from overhead. This allows for excellent observation and scrutiny from nearly every angle (the pristine white floors encourage dropping to one knee to check out the suspension, brake and wheel details!). While all of the cars have been "restored" to working condition, this does not mean each is a sterile piece of untouchable art. Thankfully, it appears just the opposite. Compared to many museums with their mindless curators who find it necessary to erase history with a full ground-up restoration, Porsche has left most of its inventory with original race scars, paint chips, and blemishes. Get close enough, and you can even smell the oils and lubricants on the engines. It is an overall impression that reaffirms Porsche’s passion for driving.

Porsche spent a reported €100 million (about $130 million) on the new facility. Their significant investment has delivered a world-class exhibition to serve as a central hub for vehicle restoration, an extensive historical archive, and a literal Mecca for Porschephiles. The automaker expects 200,000 visitors to follow our footsteps and walk the monochromatic halls of the Porsche Museum each year. The chronicled presentation is engaging and well worth the small price of admission–even if you aren’t a flat-6 aficionado.

All photos Copyright © 2009 Michael C. Harley, Weblogs, Inc. / Porsche Cars North America / Delugan Meissl

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