Launch Slideshow

Museo Soumaya (Soumaya Museum)Architect: Fernando RomeroLocation: Mexico City, Mexico

Museo Soumaya

Museo Soumaya

  • Museo Soumaya

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    Museo Soumaya

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    Bruce Damonte

    The Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, designed by FREE

  • Museo Soumaya (Soumaya Museum)Architect: Fernando RomeroLocation: Mexico City, Mexico

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    Museo Soumaya (Soumaya Museum)Architect: Fernando RomeroLocation: Mexico City, Mexico

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    Bruce Damonte

    Museo Soumaya

  • West façade

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    West façade

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    Bruce Damonte

    West façade

  • North and west façades

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    North and west façades

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    Bruce Damonte

    North and west façades

  • Defined by its mushroomlike form and its skin of locally sourced hexagonal aluminum tiles, the Museo Soumaya is located in the Plaza Carsodeveloped by billionaire Carlos Slim and largely designed by his son-in-law, architect Fernando Romero.

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    Defined by its mushroomlike form and its skin of locally sourced hexagonal aluminum tiles, the Museo Soumaya is located in the Plaza Carsodeveloped by billionaire Carlos Slim and largely designed by his son-in-law, architect Fernando Romero.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Defined by its mushroomlike form and its skin of locally sourced hexagonal aluminum tiles, the Museo Soumaya is located in the Plaza Carso—developed by billionaire Carlos Slim and largely designed by his son-in-law, architect Fernando Romero.

  • Museo Soumaya and the neighboring plaza.

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    Museo Soumaya and the neighboring plaza.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Museo Soumaya and the neighboring plaza.

  • Plaza Carso

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    Plaza Carso

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    Bruce Damonte

    Plaza Carso

  • Reflections off of the tiles at night.

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    Reflections off of the tiles at night.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Reflections off of the tiles at night.

  • Museum Entrance

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    Museum Entrance

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    Bruce Damonte

    Museum Entrance

  • Image

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    Image

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    Courtesy FREE

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    Image

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    Courtesy FREE

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    Image

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    Courtesy FREE

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    Image

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    Courtesy FREE

  • The museums second-floor lobby is column-free, save for one slanted support that cuts into the gallery above.

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    The museums second-floor lobby is column-free, save for one slanted support that cuts into the gallery above.

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    Bruce Damonte

    The museums second-floor lobby is column-free, save for one slanted support that cuts into the gallery above.

  • Main stairway from lobby to gallery floors.

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    Main stairway from lobby to gallery floors.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Main stairway from lobby to gallery floors.

  • On the upper floors, many of the artworks are shown either in display cases or on stands situated among crafted circulation paths.

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    On the upper floors, many of the artworks are shown either in display cases or on stands situated among crafted circulation paths.

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    Bruce Damonte

    On the upper floors, many of the artworks are shown either in display cases or on stands situated among crafted circulation paths.

  • Tiered circulation paths

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    Tiered circulation paths

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    Bruce Damonte

    Tiered circulation paths

  • Since art cannot be hung off of the curving, elastomeric-coated interior walls, paintings are hung on freestanding partitions.

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    Since art cannot be hung off of the curving, elastomeric-coated interior walls, paintings are hung on freestanding partitions.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Since art cannot be hung off of the curving, elastomeric-coated interior walls, paintings are hung on freestanding partitions.

  • Sinuous circulation ramps lead from floor to floor and gallery to gallery.

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    Sinuous circulation ramps lead from floor to floor and gallery to gallery.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Sinuous circulation ramps lead from floor to floor and gallery to gallery.

  • Seventh-floor galleries.

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    Seventh-floor galleries.

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    Bruce Damonte

    Seventh-floor galleries.

  • A curving ramp leads from the seventh floor to the cavernous eighth-floor gallery. A venue for showcasing Slims large collection of Rodin and Dal sculptures, the gallery is the only publicly accessible space in the museum with natural daylight, which filters ¨in through a skylight.

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    A curving ramp leads from the seventh floor to the cavernous eighth-floor gallery. A venue for showcasing Slims large collection of Rodin and Dal sculptures, the gallery is the only publicly accessible space in the museum with natural daylight, which filters ¨in through a skylight.

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    Bruce Damonte

    A curving ramp leads from the seventh floor to the cavernous eighth-floor gallery. A venue for showcasing Slim's large collection of Rodin and Dalí sculptures, the gallery is the only publicly accessible space in the museum with natural daylight, which filters in through a skylight.

  • Skylight detail

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    Skylight detail

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    Bruce Damonte

    Skylight detail

  • The hexagonal tiles seen from the green roof of a neighboring building.

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    The hexagonal tiles seen from the green roof of a neighboring building.

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    Bruce Damonte

    The hexagonal tiles seen from the green roof of a neighboring building.

  • Façade diagram

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    Façade diagram

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    Courtesy FREE

    Façade diagram

In March, in every supermarket in Mexico City, architect Fernando Romero stared back at queuing shoppers from the cover of Quién magazine. To his right stood the gleaming paraboloid of his latest project, the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, and over it a headline that read, “Slim’s Soumaya: How Fernando Romero Realized His Father-in-Law’s Dream.”

That’s Slim as in Carlos Slim, the man who last year edged out Bill Gates for the title of world’s wealthiest individual. The Museo Soumaya, named for the telecom billionaire’s late wife, stands as an enigmatic monument, like nothing else on the Mexico City streetscape. But though it may be Slim’s “dream,” the design is very much Fernando Romero’s. An alumnus of Jean Nouvel’s office as well as Rem Koolhaas’, the architect founded his own firm 12 years ago at the age of 28, and to date, Fernando Romero Enterprise (FREE) has realized some 25 projects.

Romero’s kin and client is also the country’s biggest art collector, and for the last 17 years the works have been on display at a makeshift museum in the southern part of the city. Four years ago, Slim’s conglomerate Grupo Carso acquired a 12-acre parcel near the corner of Presa Falcon and Miguel de Cervantes, at the time a dusty industrial yard home to a tire factory. Today, christened Plaza Carso, it’s a district of modern office towers and public plazas—all of it planned, and most of the new buildings designed by Romero as a setting for Soumaya.

The architect was familiar, of course, with the collection that the museum was meant to house—including the largest number of works by sculptor Auguste Rodin outside France—but that was about all he and his team had to go on. When the office received the commission, “we weren’t given a museological program,” says Laura Domínguez, who’s overseeing the completion of the building interiors in collaboration with designer Andrés Mier y Teran. “All we knew was that it was to be six gallery floors and 16,000 square meters [172,223 square feet],” as well as the site where the museum had to fit in the master plan that the firm was devising for Plaza Carso. Even up to the very week before the doors were opened to the public, museum organizers were still piecing together their curatorial mission, what would go where and why.

As a consequence, no doubt, of this open-ended brief, the development of the building proceeded from the outside in. Experimenting with different formal conceits—staggered cubes and skewed and piled wedges were among the considered and discarded schemes—the designers settled on a configuration already familiar to most in the office. In 2005, FREE submitted a proposal for a landmark and observation tower for the Beijing Olympics: a looming toadstool of a building, the structure of which was to double as a dynamic screen for digital images that would roll and scroll across its surface. That project was a no-go, but its hyperbolic paraboloid outline became, with a little belt-tightening, the basic envelope for Soumaya.

It’s a form that certainly stands out in what remains a very rough-and-ready part of town. One freight train, bound for a bread factory around the corner, still rumbles past at odd hours just steps from the front door; the adjacent plot is occupied by a Costco. As an urban artifact, the museum is a bit of a sphinx, its rhetoric willfully obtuse; but the designer readily admits that conventional symbolism wasn’t on his agenda. “When you do a conceptual project [like Beijing], you’re exercising a certain muscle—you make a discovery, and then it recurs,” says Romero.

There is, however, one definitive outside referent for Soumaya—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. Romero deploys an almost identical sequence of interior ramps, though here they’re intended solely for circulation, not for exhibition: The open floors, interrupted only by a single slanted support column, are used as flexible showrooms for paintings and sculpture. This seems in part a corrective to Wright’s approach, since the suitability of his ramps for viewing art has always been in question; yet Soumaya also lacks the Guggenheim’s unity and abundant natural light, divided as it is into airless compartments. In any case, in choosing a model, Romero could hardly have shot higher than one of the world’s most famous museums.

But there is another visual cue that might also be read as a key to the design. It’s the first thing that visitors encounter on arrival: Rodin’s The Thinker, sitting alone in the wide atrium on Soumaya’s first floor. The sculpture’s torqued, robust profile, poised between thought and action, seems to make it a fairly obvious synecdoche for the brawny building in which it stands.

 


Project Credits

Project  Museo Soumaya, Mexico City
Client  Fundación Carlos Slim
Architect  FREE Fernando Romero Enterprise, Mexico City—Fernando Romero, Mauricio Ceballos (lead designers); Ana Gabriela Alcocer, Alan Aurioles, Iván Javier Avilés, Albert Beele, Eduardo Benítez, Max Betancourt, Libia Castilla, Ophelie Chassin, Víctor Chávez, Joaquín Collado, Francisco Javier de la Vega, Manuel Díaz, Laura Domínguez, Alberto Duran, Thorsten Englert, Daniel Alejandro Farías, Omar Gerala Félix, Hugo Fernández, Matthew Fineout, Luis Flores, Raúl Flores, Luis Fuentes, Luis Ricardo García, Raúl García, Gerardo Galicia, Olga Gómez, Herminio González, Wendy Guillen, Elena Haller, Ana Paula Herrera, David Hernández, Jorge Hernández, Raúl Antonio Hernández, Susana Hernández, Wonne Ickxs, Diego Eumir Jasso, Cecilia Jiménez, Saúl Miguel Kelly, Pedro Lechuga, Juan Andres López, Juan Pedro López, Ana Medina, Cynthia Meléndez, Guillermo Mena, Ignacio Méndez, Camilo Mendoza, Jesús Monroy, Mario Mora, Ángel Ortiz, Iván Ortiz, Kosuke Osawa, Cesar Pérez, Tiago Pinto, Sergio Rebelo, Dolores Robles-Martínez, Alma Delfina Rosas, Rodolfo Rueda, Mariana Tafoya, Abril Tobar, Sappho Van Laer, Hugo Vela, Homero Yánez, Dafne Zvi Zaldívar (project team)
Interior Designer  FREE, MYT—Andrés Mier y Teran (CEO)
Structural Engineer  Colinas de Buen
Construction Manager  Inpros
General Contractor  Carso Infraestructura y Contrucción
Lighting Designer  Lighteam—Gustavo Avilés
Façade Consultant  Gehry Technologies
Size  336,946 square feet (including basement)
Cost  Withheld

Materials and Sources

Acoustical System Consultant Omar Saad
Carpet  Brio Design
Concrete  Lacosa
Exterior Wall Systems  Industrial Afiliara (aluminum hexagon cladding) industrialafiliada.com; Grace Construction Products (waterproof membrane) graceconstruction.com; Geometrica Design (galvanized steel plates, 3D structural mesh) gemetrica.com; Swecomex (tubular columns) swecomex.com; USG Corp. (Sheetrock) usg.com; Ypasa (poliesthirene insulation, concrete plaster, elasticated plaster) ypasa.com.mx
Flooring  Hankö (German white oak) hankogroup.com; Alta Spain (Greek marble)
Furniture  Industrias Ideal (auditorium seats) industriasideal.com; ArqT (carpentry)
Glass  Aluvisa aluvisa.com
HVAC  Dypro-Cyvsa www.cyvsa.com
Insulation  Ypasa ypasa.com.mx
Lighting  Lighteam lighteam.eu
Masonry and Stone  PC Constructores
Metal  Iasa
Millwork  Hankö hankogroup.com;  ArqT
Plumbing and Water System  Hubard y Bourlon
Roofing  Swecomex (steel structure) swecomex.com; Lacosa (concrete); Ypasa  (coating) ypasa.com.mx
Wallcoverings  Plaster (tecnomuro); Weatherlastic (elasticated plaster)
Wayfinding  Recisa recisa.com
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors  AGR agrpuertasmetalicas.com; Dimeyco cestek-dimeyco.com.mx