“Three million years ago, Panama changed life in our planet. The Biomuseum recalls this fascinating story”, reads the introduction to Puente de vida (Bridge of Life), better known as the Museum of Biodiversity or Biomuseum, a startling invitation for those interested in the origins of life.
The objective of this scientific institution is to reveal the impact of the Isthmus of Panama on the planet’s biodiversity, documenting the wealth that came from the oceans and the species that developed on land on this corner of Earth.
The new museum, which is about to open its doors to the public after nearly ten years of construction, is the work of the renowned architect Frank Gehry. Located on Panama’s Pacific coast, near the entrance of the strategic Panama Canal, its position and design turn the museum into a new architectural icon poised to attract international attention to the Central American nation.
With a budget of $60 million, the structure boasts more than 43,000 square feet of prime real estate and is Frank Gehry’s first building in Latin America. Bruce Mau Design, one of the most relevant design firm in the world, faced a significant challenge when it set out to create an architectural narrative that would describe the identity of the country. Gehry´s conceptual aesthetics are combined with local art and culture. The sloped structures that protect the interiors from the rain and the cross-ventilation cooling the warm atmosphere of this tropical zone are latent elements found in the spirit of Panama. The curvy, open main atrium is the starting point for eight magnificent pavilions that will house interactive exhibits, carefully curated by scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
All the galleries have their own seal, a style that perfectly blends with the permanent collection. This is easily appreciated in Divided Oceans, an exhibit featuring two doubled storied cylindrical aquariums that highlight the differences between the species that emerged in the Pacific Ocean and those that developed in the Caribbean.
The pavilions have asymmetric, bold roofs that evoke the spontaneity of the forces of nature. Their bright colors contrast with each other to become the unavoidable focal point. The architect departs from his usual pattern of metal tones and opts for brighter colors: red, orange, yellow and cobalt blue, as a reflection of the tropical environment, a solution that addresses the issue of national identity.
The country itself inspires the exterior finishes: a layer of gypsum covers the support of large glass windows that provide interaction with the outside environment. The expansive botanical garden surrounding the building was commissioned to the famous landscape architect Edwina von Gal. It invites guests to take a stroll under the shade of hundreds of plant species that coexist with the exotic local fauna.
The Biomuseum was designed for the enjoyment of all its visitors. It includes a cafeteria, museum shop, and a public atrium for socializing, interior spaces for traveling exhibitions, an IMAX theater and several areas within the botanical garden for outdoor displays.
In addition to the Museum’s goals and objectives, “Bridge of Life” is also an architectural gift to humanity. ■