In Progress: The Biomuseo / Frank Gehry

© Victoria Murillo / Istmophoto.com / Biomuseo

The Puente de Vida Museum, more commonly referred to as The Biomuseo, will be Frank Gehry’s first design in all of Latin America. It is located in Panama in the area called , which sits only a few blocks from the country’s principal cruise port and is adjacent to Panama City. The mission of the Biomuseo is to “offer an impressing and educational experience about the biodiversity and emergence of the isthmus in Panama in order to motivate all Panamanians to get to know and to value this natural component of their identity, as well as to generate in all its visitors the need to protect the environment” (Biomuseo Website). The Biomuseo intends to explore the importance of Panama’s biological systems and its emergence as a geological link between North and South America, both of which have had global impacts many are unaware of. 

With these goals in mind, it quickly became clear that the museum design needed to be something very special to attract the international attention its founders desired. They wanted the museum to be a never-before-seen kind of design and to serve as a new architectural icon for Panama, much like the Eiffel Tower does for France or the Tower of Pisa for Italy. With the participation of  as well as the world-renowned landscape architect Edwina von Gal & Company, the Biomuseo began to take form: an extremely unique, Gehry-esque structure surrounded by an open botanical park that complements the exhibits within.

More after the break…

Courtesy of Biomuseo

The museum is composed of pavilions that contain interactive exhibits, developed by Bruce Mau Design, on of the most important design companies in the world. These pavilions are covered by brightly colored roofs which will be visible from a great distance by visitors arriving by cruise at the nearby port. Collectively, the roofs create an irregular silhouette that represent the spontaneity of the natural forces that give shape to our world. Darien Montañes, one of the exhibit coordinators at the museum, described it as a “very loud and visible building, appropriate for Panama’s loud and visible culture” in this Crane.tv video we featured earlier.

© Victoria Murillo / Istmophoto.com / Biomuseo

In an interview with The Architects’ Newspaper, Anand Devarajan, a partner at Gehry Partners, explained that for each and every project, their firm “delves deeply into the local culture in order to find inspiring and innovative ways to respond to a place” – and in this case, the response was a rich use of color. Although the geometry is characteristic of Frank Gehry, Devarajan goes on to say that exterior finishes – plaster over a concrete substrate – are what is commonly expected in Panama, blending the aesthetics of an internationally celebrated architect with the craft of the local culture. Even the rain screen system developed by Gehry Partners was inspired by the shed-like structures found throughout Panama City, protecting the interior from wind-driven rain while allowing for cross-ventilation.

Courtesy of Biomuseo

The greatest challenge, of course, was designing an architectural narrative to explain the natural Panamanian identity. With the help of Bruce Mau Design, the museum developed into a structure with a central atrium, open to the air and accessible, with eight galleries branching off of it. Each gallery has its own architectural identity and embodies its exhibit’s contents. Museum director Margot López explained that one of the most interesting and successful things about the Biomuseo is this ongoing conversation between architecture and story and that Gehry has merged them into one. In her words, visitors will be “learning about Panama’s geological origins, and the building [will be] taking [them] along for the ride.”

Plan; Courtesy of Gehry Partners

Architects: Gehry Partners
Architect : Gehry Partners
Executive Architect: Ensitu, S.A.
Landscape Architect: Edwina von Gal
Structural Engineer: O.M. Ramirez Y Asociados, S.A., Panama
Mechanical, Electrical And Plumbing Consultant: Don C. Gilmore and Associates, Inc.
Mechanical Engineer: J.E. Kiamco Y Asociados, S.A., Panama
Facade And Metal Roof Systems: Permasteelisa Group
Acoustical Engineer: Cerami Inc
Aquarium Consultant: T.A. Maranda Consultants, Inc.
Lighting Consultant: Lightswitch
General Contractor: Ingeneria R.M., S.A.
Area: 4000.0 sqm
Year: 2013
Photographs: Victoria Murillo / Istmophoto.com / Biomuseo, Courtesy of Biomuseo, Courtesy of Aaron Sosa / Istmophoto.com / Biomuseo

References:Official Biomuseo WebsiteArchitects’ NewspaperGehry Partners

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "In Progress: The Biomuseo / Frank Gehry" 07 Feb 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 Dec 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=329705>
  • i2h

    it looks like a crayon box exploded. then cheese sticks rained from the sky to accentuate the exploded forms.

  • Philipp

    His last few projects were really weak but now it seems like he lost it…

  • Min Lee

    Somebody forgot to clean their desk.

  • Rafael Bergés

    Give me a break. Is he senile?

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  • Sven Scholz

    not my kind of architecture, but especially the exhibition-spaces and the floor-plan fit quite well to the diversity-topic
    the exterieur model really looks cluttered and random, but on the few fotographs there are i can imagine it to be quite an interesting space.
    I wonder if people just read gehry, see some tangled structures and instantly hate it, sure he has his style and its not everybody´s cup of tea, but i think its exactly what the client wanted

    • Richard Peck

      I admire much of what Gehry has done, but this looks like something thrown in a heap

    • Rafael Bergés

      You do have a point there. There are other buildings by Gehry that I think are fantastic. I think people should judge works by their individual value, not by the fame of the architect. On that note I would say that this is not even close to the sort of work that a pritzker prize winner should be producing. Recently it seems like Gehry has been resting on his laurels a bit and he should be criticized for doing poor work like this.

  • Marcelo Gardinetti

    this is cultural garbage they deposit in Latin America
    and and a discredit for architecture courses

  • Nick

    Looking at the first photo it’s not clear if that is the finished building, or it’s half way through construction… And that’s one of the problems with Gehry’s work recently.

  • Rsantosfernandes

    Nelson Muntz

    “Ha Ha!”
    ―Nelson’s catchphrase

  • Tara Cannon

    Hi, Are there any updates on when the museum will open? We will be visiting Panama in March 2014 and would really like to visit. Thanks.