This time last year—when architect Jacques Herzog, Hon. FAIA, and museum director Thom Collins last gave design followers an advance look at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)—the building was little more than a series of concrete slabs set in a giant construction site. When the two returned this week, accompanied by fellow Herzog & de Meuron senior partner Christine Binswanger and Pérez chief curator Tobias Ostrander, the scene was a dramatically different one: glassed in with extra-strength glass to resist hurricane winds and kitted-out with art and sculpture (including a debut special exhibition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei), the museum was ready for public consumption, just in time for the 2013 edition of Design Miami/.
Even fully enclosed, and with its ranks of vertical planters beginning to grow in around the perimeter, the building remains remarkably open. "It's not a closed jewel case," pointed out Binswanger, who was echoed by her colleague. The designers' intention, says Herzog, was to take Miami's vernacular architecture and turn it inside out, "deconstructing the Art Deco box" with wrap-around fenestration that affords views of the surrounding park and nearby bay from nearly every exhibition space in the building. "It makes use of the local ingredients," Herzog added, "the sun, the water, the air."
As Collins noted, "Our biggest competition isn't other cultural institutions—it's the beach." The fact that Miami, a major player in the global art world at least since the arrival of Miami Beach's Art Basel in 2002, has not heretofore had a proper museum of contemporary art meant that the Pérez team had to fill a big niche while addressing as broad an audience as possible. The "symphonic" interweaving of Herzog & de Meuron's exhibition rooms, as Collins described it, alternates between dedicated "focus spaces" highlighting the permanent collection and "project spaces" for special, site-specific installations commissioned by the museum. The combination allows the museum to appeal to the widest possible array of tastes and constituencies—a must in a city as diverse and on-the-go as Miami.