What is Frank Gehry doing in Panama?

His new design, the BioMuseo in Panama City, will open later this year after 14 years of design, approval and construction.  Officially called “Panama Bridge of Life,” the museum will showcase the role of the Isthmus of Panama. The museum is located on the Amador Causeway and is very visible from the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and from Panama City. The project is expected to be completed around $60 million.

This is his first foray into Latin America—where his wife, Berta Gehry Aguilera, is Panamanian, which may explain his interest in this museum.  The museum follows his so-called destructivism style of controlled chaos. There is already debate on what the exterior of the museum is portraying. Some say it is the canopy of the Central American jungle; others that it mimics toucans. What do you think?

The eight galleries are slated to take visitors on a journey through Panama and the importance of biodiversity in this region. The “Panamarama” will be a three floor screening area with fourteen surround screens. The “Bridge Emerges” will illustrate the geological formation of the Isthmus of Panama. The “Great Exchange” is going to house 97 sculptures of the mega fauna that lived on the isthmus three million years ago. The “Human Footprint” will illustrate over 15,000 years of human life on the isthmus. The “Oceans Divided” will feature two aquariums housing aquatic life from the Caribbean Sea and from the Pacific Ocean. The “Living Network” is a gallery showcasing Panama. The BioMuseo will have a diverse collection of plants totaling 1300 varieties and over 100 different animals to add to the beauty of the museum.

Panama is hoping that Gehry’s design will follow his recent design of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, which has been a tourist draw. Gehry is also known for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles and the EMP (formerly Experience the Music) in Seattle. Stay tuned –he is squabbling with the Eisenhower family over the design of the new memorial to Dwight Eisenhower near the Capitol in Washington D.C., and has designed and is working on the new Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park and another Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.

On our return from Panama, we spent a day in Los Angeles and rode bikes near the Norton House he designed on Venice Beach (see below). He lives nearby in Santa Monica in the house that elevated his career in the 1980s.



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