Soumaya Museum by Fernando Romero 16.08.11

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The Soumaya Museum in Mexico City is a shiny, glimmering structure that resembles a 150ft-high cooling tower or ventilation shaft that has been spun out of shape. Its striking windowless facade, an enclosed envelope designed to protect the fragile contents, is covered in a honeycomb skin made up of 16,000 aluminium hexagons.

Commissioned by the telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, who currently occupies the number-one slot on the Forbes rich list (with an estimated fortune of $74 billion), the museum is a memorial to his late wife, Soumaya Domit, who died in 1999. Its six floors show old masters alongside post-war Mexican art, and boast the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside France.

The free-entry museum, "a gift to Mexico", was designed by architect Fernando Romero, Slim's 39-year-old son-in-law. Romero, the author of five books on architecture and designer of a series of corporate offices for Slim's business empire, trained under Rem Koolhaas, with whom he designed the acclaimed Casa da Musica in Porto, Portugal. His father-in-law, a former engineer, was a demanding client. Romero originally imagined that the
skin of the building would be translucent but Slim, the owner of a large aluminium corporation, insisted the material be used on the facade. "The baroque, ornamental facade," Romero acknowledges, "connects with the historical content."

Rodin's The Thinker presides over the foyer, a Gattaca-like white space. Twenty-eight vertical columns, each with its own geometry, hold the weight of the top-heavy structure, and each successive floor is a different shape. The sixth floor, a 20m-wide column-less space in which over 100 pieces of Rodin's work are shown, has a floating roof with a huge skylight that floods the space with natural light.

The museum, with its organic shape, fish-scale facade and spiralling ramps, has been compared to the Guggenheim museums in Bilbao and New York. It is part of a new cultural district and development called Plaza Carso at the edge of the business district of Polanco, which will include shopping malls, a five-star hotel, residential towers, and another more angular museum designed by David Chipperfield to house the Jumex collection of contemporary art.

 

Image

Adam Wiseman

 

Words

Christopher Turner

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The baroque, ornamental facade connects with the historical content

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