Pérez Art Museum: A Miami Stiltsville Metaphor by Herzog & de Meuron

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Samuel Nguma

Samuel Nguma is an Editor for Archute. He enjoys taking long walks and reading short stories. He is an ardent lover of architecture which he studied at the University of Nairobi.
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Herzog & de Meuron is one of the world’s most respected architectural firms. The practice has over the years developed a reputation for conjuring up some of the planet’s most original building solutions. In 2006, with Miami seeking to inspire life to the downtown waterfront of Biscayne Bay, the firm was called upon to design a new home for the then Miami Art Museum. With the design stage taking around four years, construction for what is the Jorge M. Pérez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County or as it is now popularly known – the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), began in 2010 and would take three years to be fully realised. The new development sits amply on Museum Park and is flanked with the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and a major freeway that connects mainland Miami and Miami Beach.

What makes Miami so extraordinary? Its amazing climate, lush vegetation and cultural diversity. It is from exploiting these cues that the design team was able to bridge the gap between what has been and what Miami aspires to be. Finding inspiration from Stiltsville, a group of wooden houses that sit on stilts off the coast of Key Biscayne; the museum is a composition of rectilinear forms that is elevated from the ground and surrounded with a forest of columns that supports a massive overhanging roof. Perhaps what makes the building spectacular is how it is able to reconcile in itself these contextual forces; those of the adjoining park, the water and the city.

To protect the building from the nearby ocean’s storm surge levels, the whole development was lifted above grade. The space underneath the raised platform, while dealing with storm water run-off, also serves as an open-air parking area. The very stilts that support this platform are transformed into columns that support the structure’s most distinctive element – a wooden louvered canopy that transverse the entire site. The platform and canopy in a manner of speaking, sandwich the museum, creating a large public veranda that blurs the line between the museum and the park. The edge that looks towards the bay features a stair that runs along the entire width of the building which offers opportunities for visitors to relax and be used as an amphitheatre.

The dilemma that the site and brief requirements presented was how exterior vistas could be captured whilst protecting the art from the sun. To resolve this, the building is recessed inwards where expansive windows are located. The concrete beams and wooden planks that form the roof create a louvre of sorts that sun-shades the building from above and in a way reduces the energy consumption required for cooling. From the initial concept, the roof overhang provided an opportunity for ‘hanging gardens’. Once fully installed the building will be layered by a microclimate that acts as a buffer to the extreme temperatures experienced in the summer.

The Pérez Art Museum is an essay of stilt-columns, a veranda-like platform, a canopy and hanging gardens. The museum is perpetually suspended within this structural framework. The design team worked with the museum staff to come up a with an optimal functional layout that would best accommodate the museum’s growing collections as well as provide spaces for temporary exhibitions. The galleries are consequently divided into four main types: Overview, Focus, Project and Special Exhibitions. The Overview galleries form the connective tissue of the museum. They are characterized by large windows that frame views towards the freeway, park and water. Flowing in a non-sequential manner they enable linkage to the Focus and Project galleries – enclosed spaces that showcase an individual artist, theme, specific collection or commissioned work. The Special Exhibitions are larger and more flexible halls with fewer openings and can be partitioned with temporary walls. These galleries are mainly used to display contemporary art.

Connecting the museums two exhibition levels is an expansive stairway that acts as an auditorium. In most museums, auditoria are isolated. However, at PAMM this space is incorporated within the main transition area and will be the life-blood of the museum by hosting lectures, film screenings, concerts and other performances. When not actively in use – it will serve as a introductory lobby for visitors and a reading area. Education, research facilities and curator offices are located on the third level, positioned along the building’s skin so as to afford generous views.

With contemporary art museums being accused of being lifeless white boxes, the Pérez Art Museum is a welcome relief. The entry and approach experienced is ingenious; with a fluid transition from the park to the veranda-like boardwalk to the flowing spaces within. The material palette is also an antithesis of the today contemporary museum. Concrete and wood are used in different combinations to create a cohesive visual backdrop for the display of art. Even the typical drywalls are detailed in such a way that they are visible from the main structure. It is this and many other design interventions that occur in concert to create an object of delight – a worthy cultural and educational addition to Miami’s beachfront.

Project Information
Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Miami, Florida, USA
Miami Art Museum
Partner-in-Charge: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Christine Binswanger
Project Team: Charles Stone, Kentaro Ishida, Stefan Hoerner, Adriana Mueller, Ahmad Reza Schricker, Daekyung Jo, Dara Huang, Günter Schwob, Hugo Moura, Ida Richter Braendstrup, Jack Brough, Jayne Barlow, Jason Frantzen, Jeremy Purcell, Joana Anes, Margarida Castro, Masato Takahashi, Mehmet Noyan, Nils Sanderson, Roman Aebi, Silja Ebert, Sunkoo Kang, Valentine Ott, Wei Sun, Yuichi Kodai, Yuko Himeno
Architect-of-Record: Handel Architects
Cost Consultant: Stuart-Lynn Company
Structural: Arup, Douglas Wood
ADA Engineering
Harvey Marshall Berling Associates
Sustainability Consultant:
Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH
GEO Architectonica, Patrick Blanc
Client Representation:
Andy Klemmer, Robert Portnoff, Paratus Group
Consultants: JALRW (Plumbing & Fire); Front (Façade); Lane Consultants (Security Consultant); Jenkins & Huntington Inc (Vertical Transportation); Schirmer Engineering (Code); Reginald Hough (Concrete); Michele Rondelli (Fabric); Stephen Smulski (Wood)
Site Area: 14 221 sqm
Gross Floor Area: 11 125 sqm
Status: Completed, 2013
Photographs: Acrophotos, Daniel Azoulay, Iwan Baan, Oriol Tarridas

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About the author

Samuel Nguma

Samuel Nguma is an Editor for Archute. He enjoys taking long walks and reading short stories. He is an ardent lover of architecture which he studied at the University of Nairobi.
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