Words: Caroline Joan Peixoto | Images: James Florio
What’s in a reflection? In the case of the towering Museo Soumaya, rising 150 feet at the heart of a new cultural and commercial district in Mexico City, quiet a lot. Its mirrored-steel elements serve to reference the traditional, colonial ceramic-tiled building façades surrounding it, while reflecting not only a diverse collection of art contained within, but the desire to create a new cultural institution for the public and the city. It’s unique mirrored tiles also give the building a distinctly different appearance depending on the weather, time of day and the viewer’s vantage point.
Museo Soumaya is open 365 days a year and free to all. Named for the client’s wife (who reportedly taught him everything he knows about art), the Soumaya houses 66,000 pieces valued at over 700 million dollars. Inside, natural lights floods an extensive collection of Rodin, Dalí, and many of the Great Masters in an open floor plan.
“I am convinced that Mexico has produced some of the best modernism globally, and I think that the challenge of the project is on how to connect this with historical time,” says Fernando Romero, architect and founder of fr-ee and designer of the Museo Soumaya.
Searching for a design solution for the facade that was both contemporary and representative of the contents within, 16,000 aluminum tiles were affixed to the structure’s exoskeleton. “The inspiration is connected to chainmail, and in this case the hexagon also represents the force of the group, and how the union of singular elements create a solid structure,” shares Romero.
fr-ee found some aspects of the construction challenging, as the client (his father-in-law and multi-billionaire Carlos Slim) wanted to work with his own construction company. “This required intense conversation between international and local engineers,” Romero intimates, though “We were convinced we had the best structural solution for the project.”
The civic space, Plaza Carso, was designed completely by fr-ee. Featuring a shopping mall, parks, and high rise apartment buildings, the Museo Soumaya stands in the center of the cultural center. To date, more than 7 million visitors have passed through the museum.
The building’s appearance shifts constantly throughout the day, reflecting the change of light, weather, and position of the viewer. Romero, however, is enamored by a particular time of day: “I love to see the building surrounded by people in the afternoon, when the west sunlight touches the upper part of the facade and reflects the light to the plaza.”
“The fact that [the museum] is free forever makes the project a gift to the community,” says Romero, who later shares he’s honored to be a part of the project. “For many, this can be the first time for Mexicans to get to know Rodin, Van Gogh and Monet.”