Three million years ago a process of geological and tectonic change had resulted in the existence of a narrow strip of land that is Panama today. This new land bridge connected the North and South American continents and created two oceans where once there had been only one, altering in the process global ocean currents and in turn engendering habitats on the African continent that would eventually allow for the evolution of humankind. The so called “Panama Effect”, as this evolutionary process has come to be known, has led some scientists to claim that “…we are all Panamanians”. The 4,500 m2 Panama Bridge of Life- Museum of Biodiversity (Frank Gehry´s first and still his only Latin American project), located at the southern entrance to the Panama Canal, employs this uniquely Panamanian history to reveal human and natural aspects of the country’s rich and increasingly menaced biodiversity in a series of eight exhibits designed jointly by Gehry and Bruce Mau.
In addition to a retail store, cafeteria and temporary exhibit pavilion (the museum is the only Smithsonian Institution affiliated museum outside of the United States and is thus entitled to receive on loan parts of the SI collection), the eight exhibits “inhabit” separate pavilions that are arranged around a two level central atrium. Visitors arrive at the upper level (4m00 above street level) from the street and canal side pedestrian walkway on ramps and stairs and from there descend and ascend a ramped, looping route through the series of exhibits. The building materials are primarily concrete, built up plaster wall systems, curtain wall glazing, structural steel and painted aluminium roofing panels.
ESSA is the Executive Architect/Engineer and Architect of Record in representation of Gehry Partners, LLP. The firm contributed its expertise in tropical architectural design and construction issues during the design phases and is responsible for technical inspection and construction supervision during the ongoing construction phase.