July 2014.

Museum of Biodiversity, Panama City, Panama,

Architect, exterior and interior,  Frank  Gehry.


Now a world famous architect, Frank Gehry’s early career was not not noteworthy.  While contemplating his future and deciding what to do with his life, he drove a truck to support himself..

From driving a truck to winning the Pritzker prize in Architecture and becoming one of the most famous and recognized Architects in the world – who would have thought it then…………..
In the 1980’s, when Lisa, my daughter and I were working in Venice California, we would talk about “this house”  that was being renovated by an architect, using unexpected and bizarre materials and was very controversial.  There was also the  the Chiat Day Building with a model of over sized binoculars out front, much later  the Disney Concert Hall …………and on and on…….but it was the renovation of the  1920’s house in Venice California where he still resides  that generated  much conversation and is said to have given impetus to Gehry’s career.



Designed by Frank Gehry and Partners of Los Angeles, the Museum of Biodiversity  in Panama City sits proudly on the Amador Causeway,  a strip of reclaimed land facing the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the Panama Canal.  It is easily visible from Land and Sea and appears at times to be floating on the ocean.

The corrugated iron angled  roofs are  juxtaposed and painted in primary  reds, yellows oranges and blues –  a re-interpretation on steroids of his inimitable style.   Whether viewed from land or from sea, it is very challenging.  When I saw it the first time,  I was in  shock – it was a departure for his other work,  I was not sure if I liked it or not,  until I adjusted to its strong form, crazy angles and colorful finishes. Now that I have been inside the almost completed museum, I have a greater understanding of the architect’s genius that went into masterminding this building.

Frank Gehry was first approached to design the museum as far back as 2001.  He has a strong connection to Panama as his wife  Berta Isabel Aguilera  is Panamanian.  Fortunately, Gehry, who is now eighty five years old. is still in his “extended prime” as one of the most sought after architects, continuing to design projects all over the world.  Looking at the building in its colorful representation, it seems that it was designed by someone much younger because of the bright colors and the playfulness of the design.  This is Frank Gehry’s only design in Latin America and is in stark contrast to some of the bland,  repetitive high rise modern buildings that comb the Panama City skyline. The Panamanians like to describe it as “iconic”, which it is.  Panama is very much “on the Map” because of the Panama Canal, but the ongoing  publicity about the Museum, that is gathering momentum will do for Panama City  what the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Balboa Museum did for  Balboa.  Although not completed ,  the Museum of Bio-diversity is already a magnet for tourists and locals alike and will ultimately have a positive effect on the economy of the City.

When I visited Panama City last year, the building was fenced off and unapproachable as it was  under construction.  Now that I have been able to visit it, walked up the raw concrete entry stairs and stared up at the complicated roof structure and strong metal beams that support it, I am totally in awe of this man’s creativity. .   Although originally conceived in visual form as a drawing on paper, it required sophisticated technology to produce the working drawings.  Gehry Technology, one of the Gehry companies,  designed special software  to work through the complexity of the design.  This complexity goes throughout the building and continues into the display areas of the galleries linking the exterior to the interior.  There were several delays due to the unique design and workmen had to be flown in from the States, as the local construction workers were not qualified for some of the challenges.   Other times work had to be redone as it was not up to standard and all this contributed to the delays and  spiraling costs.  The idea for the museum was originally thought up by some local businessmen who presented it to the Government and it took a while to put the funding together, which was both Governmental and private.  The costs are presently running about three times the original estimates and only four galleries are open until there is more funding – the Aquarium is yet to be completed.  The official opening is to take place in September when the Architect and his family will be present, as well as the President of Panama, but there is still much to do including the plants and the planting, referred to as The Park, that are an integral part of the Bio-diversity theme.

The purpose of the Museum is to show the Bio-diversity of Panama and it’s effect  on the rest of the world.  The display begins  by recalling that several million years ago, when   the isthmus  rose from the seas it changed life on earth in countless ways.  They refer to the narrow strip of land that is Panama as “the bridge of life” that hosts an  astonishing wealth of Bio-diversity  and is the  nexus of  a multitude of connections –  climatic,  biological and cultural, that link the globe.”


Each of the galleries are extremely interesting and beautifully mounted, but the  interactive film gallery is a wonderful experience  with  surrounding and roof screens as well as screens underneath the transparent floor, so that you feel you are inside the rain forest, or the ocean or among the butterflies and insects.  The is totally mesmerizing for “kids of all ages” as the projectors roll.



Judging by the enthusiasm and size of the audience the day I visited, this Museum will continue to attract large numbers of  people and will set a new benchmark for Museums of the world.  I hope Frank Gehry remains in his “extended prime” for many  years, to complete all the projects he has ongoing throughout the world, – because even though he has a team and  employs many talented architects, he is the the genus and creative force of these amazing designs,  No slowing down for this eighty five year old,  who was a truck driver while he attended the LA City College before deciding to enroll at UCLA for architectural studies, where he graduated top of his class in 1954…….. and the rest is history !!


Amador Causeway, #136,

Panama City, Panama.

Tel. 507/830-6700

Hours:  Tues – Fri 10.00 – 4.00,  Sat and Sun 10.00 – 5.00,   closed Monday

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