This week another exploration of a site in Panama City, Panama, the Biomuseo, known formally as the Museo de la Biodiversidad and casually as the Biodiveristy Museum. The Panamanians are extremely proud of this interesting museum that showcases the diversity of their country. It is likely the most recognizable building in Panama City with it’s multicolored roof and panels all meant to symbolize the forces of nature.
Located on the Amador Causeway, the Biomuseo was designed by the famed architect Frank Gehry. Gehry, a native of Canada born to Russian and Polish Jewish parents in 1929, immigrated to the US with his family in 1947 settling in California. He eventually earned a degree in Architecture from the University of Southern California after driving truck and trying his hand at other occupations. After graduation he served in the US Army and then moved east to study city planning at the Harvard School of Design. He left before completing this program, disillusioned that his ideas of socially responsible architecture were going unrecognized.
Gentry then returned to California and began winning design commissions. Some of his most recognizable works are the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, the Strata Center at MIT, and in Chicago, the Pedestrian Bridge in Millennium Park. And of course the Biomuseo, Gentry’s first design located in Latin America. I should mention that selecting Gentry wasn’t an accident, his wife is Panamanian so he visited Panama several times over the years. In addition, as a gesture to his wife’s homeland, he donated his design services to this project.
Biomuseo opened to great fanfare in 2014 and currently contains eight permanent galleries, space for temporary exhibits, room for expansion and an outdoor garden. There are also gift and coffee shops. Our visit started with a comfortable and quick Uber ride from our Airbnb out to the Museum. After paying the entry fee ($16 per person for non-residents) we started on the one way path through the museum.
Our first stop was the Gallery of Biodiversity with an introduction to Biodiveristy and why it is important.
This gallery also included a wall of species that are under threat, endangered and thought to be extinct. It’s quite startling to see the number and variety of plants and animals that are gone or nearly gone from the environment.
Our next stop was the Panamarama, a multiscreen film that surrounds visitors with the sites and sounds of Panama’s natural beauty and habitat. This is something to be repeated a number of times because it’s challenging to take it in all in one setting.
Our next couple of stops on our tour are the Building the Bridge and the Worlds Collide. In this section we saw an instrument that measures the movement of plates under the surface. The point is the earth is always moving like it’s alive! We added to this movement by jumping up and down to watch the needle move. I’ll have to admit that I made the needle move much more than my traveling partner, not necessarily a good thing!
These animals and birds are meant to demonstrate the diversity of life and the connection between North and South America once the isthmus between the continents was completed.
The last few galleries in the museum bring us to more modern times with the impact of humans on biodiversity, the differences between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Living Web. The end of the tour takes us out to the gardens where the notion that the country of Panama is the Museum and it’s importance to biodiveristy to the world.
Since we noticed the museum offers periodic tours of the gardens, we asked and soon were assigned an English speaking guide. Jorge (or George) explained that the gardens were recently opened and continue to be a work in progress. Note the blue plates in the background, they represent the three plates under the earth and how they moved and rose to create the isthmus connecting the continents.
Called the Biodiveristy Park, it is meant to be a living extension of the museum with diverse experiences such as shade and sun, water and drylands, and a variety of plants with many colors and textures. A recent addition is a pond with colorful water lilies and other water plants.
My traveling partner especially enjoyed the variety of flowers that were in bloom even in January!
These young visitors were also interested in the field of flowers as a backdrop to their photos.
I enjoyed the ever expanding fig tree. Not only was it cool to sit under the canopy to escape the hot sun, it also offered time to ponder the power and variety in the natural world.
We were impressed with the native papaya tree with it’s delicious fruit and the calabash vine that produces a gourd like fruit that can be used as vegetable when it’s young or dried after maturity and used for as a decoration or utensil or vessel.
As we walk around the gardens, we get different views of the museum.
We also get another look at the Bridge of the Americas that spans the Panama Canal connecting the east to the west.
I also took a picture of this statue in the garden, it reminded me of the Vince Lombardi statute at Lambeau Field in Green Bay! It’s really Gabriel Lewis Galindo, Panama’s ambassador to the US during the 1970’s and instrumental in negotiating the transfer the sovereignty of the Panama Canal back to Panama in 2000.
As we walk back into the lower outdoor level of the museum, we note that the jumbled rectangles are supported by concrete pillars symbolizing the structure of the earth’s core.
The last exhibit we see on the way out the door shows Panama’s cultural heritage, it’s beautiful and kind people.
A stop at the Biomuseo is highly recommended, you’ll need a few hours to enjoy the full experience. There were a lot of visitors the day we went, mostly pilgrims in Panama for World Youth Day and the appearance by Pope Francis.
After the museum, we had a great lunch at the nearby Mi Ranchito where the place was packed with locals (always a good sign) and pilgrims. Another fun day exploring Panama City.
Up next week travel with us to En Valle de Anton.
Until then, happy travels!