Situated beside the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Pérez Art Museum in downtown Miami, the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science also has an award-winning design firm behind it: Grimshaw Architects. The internationally renown group, which is headed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw in London, has designed some of the world’s most forward-thinking buildings, such as the Garibaldi Exhibition Building in Milan and the Fulton Center in New York City.
Cultured caught up with Grimshaw’s Vincent Chang, Christian Hoenigschmid-Grossich and Christina Tung, all of whom have worked extensively on the Frost Science Museum. Here, they discuss the design concept of the museum, which opened this week.
According to Grimshaw’s website, the key design concept behind the new museum is “building as exhibit.” Could you elaborate on what this means? Grimshaw took the opportunity to use the architecture and design of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Science Museum to reflect and extend the lessons within to the building’s form. The indoor/outdoor nature of the museum reminds visitors of the natural worlds around them as well as the intimate connection between humans and the environment. Walkways that connect exhibit rooms offer views to Biscayne Bay, children can peer into the museum’s largest aquarium from an outdoor terrace and native flora fill the landscape. The architecture subtly reminds visitors of the natural and scientific worlds we engage every day as we go about our lives, reminding us that both nature and discovery are with us everywhere.
How does “building as exhibit” affect how people engage with a space? By incorporating learning experiences and exhibition components into the architecture and landscape design, visitors have greater opportunities to interact with the environment and to draw connections between natural processes, the built world and everyday behavior. For example, storm water runoff is directed to rain gardens that are part of the museum’s landscape design. The gardens, beyond their aesthetic value, play a role in teaching visitors about the natural water cycle and strategies for mitigating the effects of storms that can be applied at home.
How will this design concept make Frost Science’s appearance stand out from other buildings in the Miami cityscape? Frost Science is composed of unique shapes and positioned prominently within Museum Park. The forms of the museum, from the spherical Frost Planetarium to the curved walls of the Aquarium building, are unusual and finished in materials that will play with sunlight through reflections and casting shadows that create textures that change throughout the day. The building is placed in order to take advantage of breezes off of Biscayne Bay and views to the water. As the landscape in and around the museum matures, the building will appear settled within the park landscape and complementary to the adjacent art museum.
The “living” building will physically and visibly change in response to the environment, events and the mood of the city. What exactly does this mean? Could you give us an example of what people can expect? Depending on the time of day or current weather conditions, the appearance of the museum’s exterior will change. Geometric patterns frame windows and cover portions of the exterior walls, casting varying shadows that will change as the sun charts across the sky. Round, white tiles cover some of the structure’s more undulating surfaces, creating gradient effects as the tiles round corners and reflecting the colorful sunsets that Miami is known for. The form of the museum’s exterior is placed so as to funnel ocean breezes through outdoor promenades, in turn keeping visitors cool.
Does Grimshaw foresee more new buildings in major cities to feature this “living/building as exhibit” design concept? We design each of our projects specifically to the programmatic needs of our clients and their aspirations, so the concept we’ve developed for Frost Science is wholly unique in that it’s a dedicated response to the conditions and opportunities present in Miami. With that in mind, a number of our projects have utilized a similar approach where the architecture of a space and its exhibitions are inextricably intertwined in interesting and engaging ways. Eden Project in the United Kingdom is one example, where the architecture was developed in order to provide a greenhouse-type structure that is both large and economical. A system of a lightweight structure coupled with ETFE pillows met the programmatic challenges for the project while allowing for the transparency and immersion that would comprise a meaningful guest experience. While the strategies employed at Eden and Miami are very different, they are both created to link the architecture with the exhibition component in new and exciting ways.
Design wise, what is the focal point of the museum? What makes this part of Frost Science particularly special? One of the highlights of the museum is the Gulf Stream Aquarium. The unique ‘martini glass’ form of the aquarium will allow visitors to view the fish and marine creatures from a number of different angles, including from an outdoor deck that overlooks the aquarium, portholes in the aquarium’s sides, and, finally, through a large oculus that will allow guests to look up into an immersive view of the water from below. The unique form allows for a variety of views, and draws attention to the diversity of the ocean from shoreline to greater depths.
As the architects behind this museum, how do you feel that soon (the museum opens this spring) people will be able to engage with your work? We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to let the general public loose in the new science museum. We’re very proud of the architecture that we’ve developed and the collaborative spirit in which the project has come together, and look forward to the opportunity for the museum to renew its own niche as a beloved institution. We think the unique building will certainly aid in that regard, conveying a sense of creativity and wonder that the world of science should inspire. As the museum races towards the finish, and tanks begin to fill, our excitement only mounts.
Photos by Robin Hill