Workbook: PAMM by Herzog & de Meuron

Pérez Art Museum Miami, window seating Photo by Iwan Baan

Pérez Art Museum Miami, window seating
Photo by Iwan Baan

Originally opened in 2013, the waterfront Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) recently achieved LEED Gold certification for its sustainable design, use of local materials, and integration with the city’s public transportation system. Built on the site of a former oil refinery, the museum embodies the transformation of a once industrial area into a downtown landmark. We heard from Christine Binswanger, Senior Partner at Herzog & de Meuron, the firm responsible for designing the project.

Can you talk a bit about how you interpreted the client’s vision and the overall concept of the project?

PAMM is located on a fabulous site in Museum Park, the redeveloped downtown waterfront facing Biscayne Bay. We bring the park practically into the museum by offering a generous shaded “porch” that is planted from above and underneath. Rather than creating a museum as an isolated jewel in a park for art connoisseurs and specialists, we wanted the new PAMM to provide continuous, open and comfortable public space where community, nature and contemporary art can blend harmoniously.

The museum recently received LEED Gold certification. Can you please talk a little bit about the sustainable elements or technologies incorporated into the project, and more specifically, water efficiency? 

PAMM is a building that responds to the local climate. As in previous examples of our work, such as the Dominus Winery in Napa Valley, the building’s environmental circumstances are central to its architectural concept. The use of concrete and the large canopy are part of a strategy to keep the heat out. In this exceptional location, we wanted the museum to offer generous views to the outside. Yet all the building’s expansive windows are recessed, with wooden planks under the concrete beams to minimize the sun’s impact on the glazing and to reduce the building’s energy consumption for cooling. Tropical plants selected for their resilience to the local conditions engulf the structural system. Roof and plants combined create a microclimate reducing the extreme temperature gaps between outside and inside in the hot weather. These lush hanging gardens are sustained with rainwater collected in cisterns, and a drip-chain system irrigates the greenery from the canopy to the garage. The building also takes advantage from the breezes coming off the bay, lowering the temperature of the museum’s indoor and outdoor spaces by as much as 10 degrees, year-round.

Pérez Art Museum Miami, east façade Photo by Angel Valentin

Pérez Art Museum Miami, east façade
Photo by Angel Valentin

The property is right on the water. Do you approach such a project differently than those that are more land locked? What elements do you take into consideration?

Due to its proximity to the water, the museum is lifted off the ground for the art to be placed above storm surge level. We use the space underneath the building to create an open-air parking, exposed to light and fresh air that can also handle storm-water runoff. Rising from the parking level, the stilts supporting the museum platform become columns supporting the shading canopy, which covers the entire site creating a veranda-like public space that welcomes visitors to the museum and the park. Facing the bay, a wide stair connects the platform to the waterfront promenade and allows visitors to sit down and linger on, enjoying views over Biscayne Bay. It’s great to see how the veranda at PAMM has become a truly civic/public space used by all kinds of people, not only museum visitors.

Pérez Art Museum Miami, Hanging gardens Photo by Daniel Azoulay Photography

Pérez Art Museum Miami, Hanging gardens
Photo by Daniel Azoulay Photography

What were the special climate control measures taken to deal with the humid local climate?

The building was designed to function with as small a carbon footprint as possible, while ensuring consistent temperature and humidity levels needed when storing and displaying works of art. The museum benefits from a low volume underfloor plenum system that supplies conditioned air to the occupied zone saving energy and improving the building’s overall efficiency. Also, the exterior perimeter walls of solid concrete and hurricane-rated glass help maintain the gallery conditions within.

What were some of the materials used in the construction?

Pérez Art Museum Miami, south façade Photo by Armando Colls/

Pérez Art Museum Miami, south façade
Photo by Armando Colls/

We used recycled and local materials throughout the museum, including steel, wood and gypsum extracted from sustainable sites within the southeastern US. The museum was also the first in the U.S. to use Cobiax voided slab technology, a system that incorporates 100 percent recycled plastic with rebar into concrete slabs, which not only allows for expansive galleries with fewer support columns, but efficiently reduces approximately 35 percent of the amount of concrete used.

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