Anyone who visits the Pérez Art Museum Miami will realize immediately that its architects, the Swiss firm of Herzog & de Meuron, were in thrall to the city’s natural beauty. A cluster of volumes nestled under an open veranda, the building is topped with a latticed canopy of greenheart wood and concrete, its horizontality broken up by verdant hanging gardens suspended from the rafters. Visible throughout the structure, the tropical greenery and the stunning city views foster a close connection to Miami, from both inside and out.
Christine Binswanger, the project’s partner in charge, explains on a press tour during last year’s DesignMiami, “As in our previous work, such as the Dominus Estate in Napa Valley, the museum’s environmental circumstances become central to its architectural concept.” Herzog & de Meuron’s embrace of the extraordinary climate, lush vegetation and cultural diversity is somewhat radical in a city known for its art deco icons, which principal Jacques Herzog characterizes as “decorated boxes” that bear little relationship to their surroundings.
Elevated above its 14,220-square-metre site next to Biscayne Bay, the 11,125-square-metre museum places the art above storm surge level and accommodates open-air parking. From beneath the facility’s platform, stilts rise to form columns that support the pergola-like canopy, which shades the entire site and creates an energetic public space. A mix of jutting white cubes and glassed-in spaces, the interior volume is tucked inside the canopied exterior, so that from a distance it appears to float above the ground.
Views to the outdoors provide a rich backdrop for the art on display. The sprawling first and second floors feature 3,090 square metres of permanent and exhibition galleries; a restaurant and a museum shop also occupy the first floor, while the third houses educational facilities and offices. In the Ai Weiwei retrospective on view until mid-March, the Chinese dissident artist’s Stacked sculpture, assembled from hundreds of bicycles, is framed by one of many large openings and windows. These offer exceptional views of the bay and the city, even giving the busy MacArthur Causeway an unexpected visual appeal.
What makes the museum truly remarkable are the 67 vertical hanging gardens. Brought to life by botanist and vertical gardening pioneer Patrick Blanc, each of the columnar structures features different plant compositions drawn from 77 native species (false heather, golden daisy bush, creeping saxifrage), all irrigated with reclaimed rainwater. Blanc joined the project early on, and he spent several years testing plant varieties to determine which ones could best endure Miami’s intense climate and storm season. He hopes the gardens will attract butterflies and nesting birds, creating a unique microenvironment and adding life to this nature-inspired cultural wonder.