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ETC and Mosaic step on the gas at the Petersen

Petersen Automotive Museum interior

Written by Marshall Bissett

Los Angeles' love affair with the automobile is enshrined in the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard. Once dubbed 'the Edzel of architecture,' the building - whose inspiration has been variously attributed to wrestlers' tights, Fruit Stripe gum and an unspooled Diet Coke can -- contains a mouthwatering display of over 100 classic and highly collectible cars. Its startling red and silver exterior - suggestive of a speeding deco roadster - is in sharp contrast to an interior arranged on three floors; more museum-like in tones of gray and white with high black ceilings. Lighting for this interior and its stellar cast of Rolls-Royces, Bugattis and rare Ferraris took more than a year of design and planning. Lighting designer Chris Werner and his team played with fixture angles, color temperature and focus using mockups and simulations. Over the course of six months, every piece of hardware was tested, ceilings and walls were color sampled, and miles of DMX and Ethernet cables were installed.

Petersen Automotive Museum exterior

Lighting cars presents challenges well known to the still photographer. Cutting down glare and getting the right color rendition is vital. "In the end, we opted for 5,000 degrees Kelvin, which is close to daylight with a hint of warmth," says Werner. Before the museum closed for renovation in December 2014, Werner looked at the old lighting system, finding huge variances of color temperature and intensity. "With the new system, we wanted balance and consistency," he explains. "We wrote custom firmware for all the LED fixtures to produce the precise color and temperature we needed."

Chris Werner in a Model T

While there are a few permanent set pieces, the exhibits can be easily be reconfigured into special-event areas; there is even a setting for weddings. With that in mind, Werner built a control network to serve present and future needs. "We have individual control of every fixture in the building," he says. "For redundancy and flexibility, all 850 Rosco Miro Cube WNC fixtures and nearly two miles of Rosco DMX Smart Track use homeruns of DMX cable back to the control room on each floor." The building is dotted with multipurpose data outlet panels that - through the use of shielded CAT 6 cable - can be used for audio, video or lighting distribution. Within the design, each car is lit by six instruments, front, back and quarter panels, and each car has its own "group" on the controller. The concession area and wall displays are lit by full-sized Source Four® fixtures and Source Four Mini™ units. Werner jokes: "When we pitched the network concept to the client, he thought it was a bit 'bonkers,' but now they love the preprogrammed looks they get from the ETC button panels in every area." 

Chris Werner with a Rolls-Royce

Like the purring V12 engine in a nearby Maserati, an ETC Unison Mosaic® architectural controller powers the system. Capable of handling 30 universes of data, the controller sends a signal through a network of Opto Splitters and nodes to patch panels that accept DMX from every floor of the building. The immaculately neat (and extremely chilly) control rooms are color coded and linked by a fiber network. A further three Mosaics control the exterior lighting. 

Werner is no stranger to Mosaic, but even he concedes that this is his "most aggressive" use of the product: "ETC were really helpful in creating special functions for the button stations. We have a lockout function and a double-click function that let us take control of the whole floor." The Mosaic controls also handle the incremental daylight harvesting in the lobby and second floor of the building. Mosaic's occupancy-sensing feature is used to monitor human traffic. All control functions are remotely accessible and - as if to emphasize his point - Werner presses a few buttons on his iPhone to perform a soft reset of Mosaic. Leaning against a rare 1930s round-door black Rolls-Royce, he is heard to say: "Thanks ETC!"