Two thousand words is too many for a Wednesday morning, but too few to do the new Pérez Art Museum Miami justice. So we'll put it simply: the new Herzog and De Meuron (HDM) edifice on museum island is, no exaggeration, exquisite.
Naturally, in this story, we'll be describing the space in more detail than that. But it's important for you to understand from the get-go that this complex is fucking amazing. Miami has not had such a significant injection of vivaciousness and cultural voracity in architectural form since the Downtown skyline began to soar with cocaine christened towers of glass and steel and light in the 1980s, or perhaps even the Art Deco resuscitation of our bedraggled city after the hurricane of September 1926. HDM have given birth to a new nerve center for communal convalescence, a ganglion where Miami's 5.4 million human synapses can fire at will beside the beauty of Biscayne Bay.
The history of Museum Park is pock-marked with a series of half-started, half-aborted projects to give the city a new art museum, a fact that isn't surprising in the slightest considering Miami's penchant for half-assedness when it comes to growing our cultural infrastructure. And yet, somehow, PAMM has actually come to fruition - and in a remarkably short span of time at that.
As soon as you set foot inside the 200,000 square feet of PAMM, you have the sense that you're walking into a very special place. That feeling is emphasized when you have the opportunity to see it and learn about it alongside the people who made the concept a reality. From explanations by Thom Collins, the museum director, to Jacques Herzog and Christine Binswanger of HDM, to Patrick Blanc, the French botanist who designed much of the landscaping and greenery that will be an integral part of the museum experience, one immediately comes to understand the gravity that this project carried for all those involved. These people clearly cared a great deal about delivering something extraordinary by the time Art Basel rolled around in December 2013.
"You know enough about Miami to know that this is a critical consideration," Collins said at yesterday's press preview of the newly minted museum, "and that is, if you've spent time here, you know that this is a city in which there are very few places to gather, places that are free and accessible and that put you in touch with the environment - the reason that so many people are here in the first place - that actually are comfortable to be. And so, the last driver in this project was the need for a social space unlike other social spaces in the city."
And while he and the rest of the players responsible for developing PAMM may have described the new museum's social space as the "last driver in this project," the reality is that for any Miami native, the initiative to create a space for the people to pass the time together and appreciate the splendor of the city will stand out as the most distinctive and moving aspect of the new museum.
That's not to say that the aesthetics of the design and engineering are secondary priorities to the goal of building a place for Miamians to hang out - quite the contrary. It is the stunning execution of HDM's expertise for aesthetics that makes PAMM such a fantastic place to be. The attention to detail and the degree of intent that went into the complex has resulted in a perfect location for just about anyone to shoot the breeze - whether you're having a picnic in the park or enjoy the vistas of Biscayne Bay or Downtown Miami from the concrete verandas.
Let's get specific about HDM's feats of tastefulness, subtlety, and organic complexity in Museum Park. According to Patrick Blanc, who also designed the hanging garden facade of the Quai Branly Museum in Paris in 2004, "Because the pillars of hanging plants are all in totally different kinds of sunlight - some are direct during times of the day, some are only getting a little bit sunlight during most hours...I was able to choose about 80 different plants for the pillars and the grounds below - I believe 77, to be more accurate."
Another example of HDM's attention to the finer points comes in the form of guests' movement between the different exhibition rooms, some of which are referred to as "overview spaces" while others are "focus spaces." Throughout the museum, you move from one hall to the next amidst a series of floor to ceiling portals, most of which are simply drywall and exposed concrete. But when you come to a focus space, you are met by a smaller passageway, framed by wood and significantly lower than the ceiling, and more often than not, on the other side of this threshold, the finish of the floors shifts to a new material. All of this adds up to a fluid series of transitions that make the museum feel like it has a natural, intuitive flow that just makes sense.
That design isn't simply for design's sake - it all works to compliment the works of art that are housed within the walls. The relationship between form and function at PAMM is an true accomplishment: the huge walls of windows providing both beautiful vistas and copious amounts of natural light to illuminate the galleries; the use of bare concrete walls for the hanging of pictures and paintings and sculptures to give the exhibits a backdrop that has an interesting texture, that isn't quite neutral, that draws visitors in even further; the ingenious engineering - using only one load bearing beam inside the entire building - that allowed for expansive rooms that could hold sprawling installations and exhibitions, giving artists a creative freedom that few other museums could offer.
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But don't take our word for it. Go to the museum and reach your own conclusions about the joint. Visit Museum Park -- it's free for Miami-Dade residents through Sunday -- and let us know in the comments if you think it's great or if you think it's rubbish. But if you're a lover of art, architecture, or simply hanging out in a beautiful place, we think you'll agree: PAMM is just what this city needs.
For more information on the Pérez Art Museum Miami, visit pamm.org.
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