This 65,000 sf exhibit consists of Henry Ford’s collection of one hundred and twenty automobiles, spanning the evolution of the automobile in American life. The automobile’s impact is interpreted according to topics developed by a team of six curators at the Henry Ford Museum—the Automotive Landscape, the Design Process, the Growth of the Industry, Advertising and Promoting the Automobile, Driving for Fun and Getting Away from it All.

The exhibit was set within a 300,000 sf open space divided only by a grid of columns. The design premise was to create an exhibit without walls. The six thematic zones were created by using architectural scale roadscape forms that gracefully divided the exhibit landscape. Cars are displayed along sweeping two lane highways, in the driveway of a tourist cabin, in a country campsite, next to a 1940’s diner, in a drive-in theater and below sparkling billboards.

Tom Ancona consulted as the lead designer for this project for prime consultant Albert Woods Design of New York City. After developing the concept with Albert Woods, the design was developed as a collaborative effort between the two offices, Albert Woods Design in New York and the recently established A+A in San Francisco.


The Automobile in American Life opened in November, 1987 and has been recognized as a landmark exhibit by historians and curators. Recipient of the Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits in History & Technology, the exhibit was renovated in 2011, while leaving the most significant features intact.

Exhibit Design Prime

Albert Woods Design
Albert Woods