A 500,000-gallon fish tank. A planetarium-sized peek into the human brain. And a whole lot of hammerhead sharks. The new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is set to change the face of South Florida’s museum scene.
In just a few weeks, Miami’s science museum (located on South Miami Avenue just north of Coconut Grove) will close its doors for good, making way for next summer’s grand opening of its show-stopping new location in Downtown Miami. The $300 million 250,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor complex adjacent to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is going up quickly, and will feature futuristic exhibits and an eco-friendly standard that hasn’t been seen anywhere else in the world.
“We have spent a lot of time thinking about how the museum can be a real resource for the community, while at the same time how to create exhibitions and programs that make it an international attraction,” says Gillian Thomas, CEO and president of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.
Expansion of the 65-year-old museum became a top priority back in 2001, when it became clear that the institution paled in comparison to newer complexes. In 2004, the city awarded the museum a $165 million bond, and plans for one of the most cutting-edge science centers in the country were officially underway.
A rendering of the Baptist Health People & Science Gallery
Designers of every kind were selected to ensure the museum would boast the finest contemporary architecture, numerous avant-garde aquariums, progressive exhibits (such as an interactive hologram of the human body) and renewable energy resources. The team drew from inspiration around the world.
“The City of Science and Industry in Paris has, in fact, been my career’s inspiration,” Thomas says. “It has a unique combination of attention to high-quality design, new science and the latest technology, and it merges those elements with its social programs.” She says they also want to mirror the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “for its commitment to conservation and the environment.”
In 2012, the new museum finally broke ground. Construction crews worked nonstop for more than 24 hours to produce one of the most significant achievements in architectural design: pouring 1,200 cubic yards of concrete into a cone-shaped vessel to create the 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream Tank, which will allow visitors to view the sharks, tuna and hundreds of other creaturesfrom above or below.
While the museum’s design is impressive in scope and concept, the five-story complex will have a walkable quality that will allow patrons to experience everything in one visit. The project’s most eye-catching and talked about element is the unprecedented Living Core Aquarium, a multilevel demonstration of Florida’s ecosystem. The exhibit will include a rooftop vista where visitors can observe the Gulf Stream Tank as they are surrounded by an urban garden. From there, onlookers descend through the various levels, including The Dive, which will be filled with florescent anemones and touch aquariums, and The Deep, which will feature an 80-foot interactive media wall that will bring museumgoers eye-to-eye with giant sunfish and humpback whales. The pièce de résistance, though, will certainly be the 30-foot, tilted oculus window, which will reveal the culmination of the aquarium as seen from below.
“Our unique location in a waterfront park offers the possibility of year-round enjoyment of the environment, so a substantial proportion of our exhibits are outside, from the Science Plaza to the roof, with spectacular views across the park to the ocean,” says Thomas.
A rendering of the Planetarium and Frost museum from I-395
One of the current museum’s most popular exhibits, the planetarium, will be taken to an entirely different level in the new space. With a full dome projection screen, multimedia software and other state-of-the-art technology, it will be one of the most sophisticated planetariums in the world. The planetoid-sized dome, which can be seen from I-395 at Biscayne Boulevard, will feature 250 seats, 8,000 projectors, a 23.5 percent screen tilt that matches the Earth’s angle of inclination and a 16-million-color laser-projection system (yup, the famed Pink Floyd laser light show will be getting a major upgrade). Exhibits will include multimedia experiences such as star shows, journeys in space and explorations of the human body.
With the old location set to shutter, excitement is building for the future of Frost. Susie Bond, a Davie resident and Miami native, has fond memories of visiting the old museum as a child and is greatly looking forward to introducing her two children to the new location. She sees the museum as a national landmark, rather than a Miami one, saying, “Even though we live in Broward, we will definitely make the drive south to visit the museum as many times as my children want to go. I look forward to Frost being as special and important to my children as it was to me growing up.” Bring on the sharks! ?