On my annual pilgrimage to visit family in Panama City last week, I checked in on developments at the BioMuseo, Frank Gehry’s new museum on the Amador Causeway that will focus on Panama’s great natural wealth and the history of the isthmus. Gehry Partners senior associate Bill Childers was in town and took me on a tour. While there has been notable progress since my visit last year, construction, which started in 2004, slogs on and substantial funding still needs to be secured. However, the team will soon announce a date for the soft opening (for five of the eight galleries), which they hope to be in late 2014. Sitting on a breath-taking site surrounded by panoramic views of the bay, the 43,000-square-foot museum consists of a concrete structure shielded by an intricate steel-framed canopy clad in brightly painted folded stainless-steel panels. In plan, eight diverse gallery volumes dedicated to telling the story of the isthmus ring a large, a pleasantly cool central open-air atrium. Over the course of the museum’s construction, Panama City has grown at an unprecedented rate: largely in the form of very high and homely residential towers and landfill (much of it the byproduct of the Canal expansion) that is being used to create—often tragically—a legion of causeways, islands, and peninsulas.
The museum, as seen from the Panama's old city, the Casco Viejo. In the foreground is the controversial causeway, which is now well underway.