soumaya museum now open fernando romero interview
soumaya museum now open   fernando romero interview soumaya museum now open   fernando romero interview
apr 01, 2011

soumaya museum now open fernando romero interview

view of the soumaya museum image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



this week saw the soumaya museum in mexico city open its doors to the public. designed by fernando romero enterprise, the museum is the new home for carlos slim’s extensive collection of works by rodin.



fernando romero with a rapid prototype of his soumaya museum design portrait © designboom




— designboom met with fernando romero to learn more about mexico’s newest landmark. —


DB: what were your aims at the start of the soumaya museum project? FR: in 2005 we were approached by a representative from a group comprised of 24 private collections. collectively these owners had decided to combine their collections in order to create a new museum and they invited us to propose a solution.


the collections feature art works from the 11th through the 20th century, from both latin-america and europe. the collection is very diverse and includes: furniture, paintings, sculptures, fashion, coins and much more. we thought it was interesting to build something for such a diverse collection.


in our opinion, there were 2 different approaches to the building. one would be to do an invisible building, completely modern where the art was the fundamental presence. the other approach was to use the architecture in a more contemporary way using design and the latest technologies to make a memorable structure. we were fortunate that at a certain moment everybody involved realized this was a great opportunity to achieve a unique project for mexico city.


we presented different schemes and were asked to develop one, in which the building emerged from the plaza and organized all the exhibition spaces on 6 floors. the most important part of the collection, containing numerous sculptures by rodin is displayed on the top floor.


the structure is a continuous skin that wraps a very economical substructure which is connected by a series of ramps.



did any existing museums have a strong influence on the design? certainly there are some european museums that have similar environments in terms of scale as well some american museums in terms of the circulation. we analyzed many existing museums but in the end we were convinced that this building needs to be connected to this specific environment and mexican culture.


we thought the museum should have a circulation that doesn’t expose all the content at once in a grand vestibule instead we wanted to allow the collection to be discovered slowly.


the museum is a filter between the experience of the city outside and that of the art inside, so we wanted the vestibule to give you the opportunity to pause for thought. a continuous ramp connects all the museum facilities, like the cafeteria and research center while allowing you to make your way through the six floors of exhibition space.



image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



what’s has been the most challenging aspect of the project? in recent times mexico has suffered some political and economic crisis and as a result of that architectural exploration has suffered in the country. for the most part architecture was in the hands of developers and a lot of post-modern buildings were built that didn’t add much value to the city.


it’s a pity because from the fifties until the seventies mexico was a really interesting place for modern art, design and architecture. the country had a vision and was actively building its identity. but now the current political and social conditions mean that the government has completely different priorities and this made the soumaya museum a much more challenging project. ‘how can you make a significant structure in this specific moment?’ the museum is privately owned however it is open and free. no one will be charged to go and see a universal collection of art. at the moment when not everybody can afford to travel, i think this a very interesting proposal. of course there were technical challenges as well, such as managing successful collaborations with the many teams of engineers to build the museum efficiently, and how to build arguments for all the people involved to accept our solution.



did your vision for the museum change much over the last five years? we were very convinced that the project should translate all the information that was stated in the brief when we were invited to work on the project; including the ambition of trying to use specific companies also owned by the same client.


we had a lot of freedom during the conceptual stage. and the core skeleton was constructed without any problems. when it came down to materials things were a bit more challenging for everybody. the facade is a good example, we had to build strong arguments in order for everybody to understand it and accept that solution. the facade is composed of 15,000 aluminum plate hexagons, made up of 1,000 different families that vary in their dimensions. this pattern basically translates into a very ornamental skin, so even if the building is completely contemporary, the skin of the building is really connected to the historical content inside.


image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



how do you feel about the end result? there is a lot of gratitude and a very positive perception in general. we feel really proud to be part of the team that developed the project. however, in architecture, you never really have any kind of satisfaction until you see the building in its proper use.


so far there have only been openings and this is not the fundamental way of using the building. once it opens publicly and people can enter from the street and explore the building – this will be a nice moment to see.


as a designer you always have the perception that some things could have been much better when you see the end result (laughs), but i think that’s part of the challenge.


considering the specific environment and the challenging timescale in which the project was completed (ca. 2 years), i think everybody is extremely proud and happy to have been a part of this project.



image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



cross section view of the soumaya museum image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



plan view of the floors image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



facade of the soumaya museum image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



entrance of the museum image © designboom



image © designboom



image © designboom



image © designboom



image © designboom



diagram illustrating the layers of the facade image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise + gehry technologies



diagram illustrating the various shapes of aluminum tiles used for the facade image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise + gehry technologies



museum a few days prior to its opening, rodin’s thinker can be seen wrapped up and cordoned off image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



artworks being unboxed image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



the museum opened its doors on march 29th, 2011, entry is free image © designboom



a visitor observes the thinker image © designboom



stairs and ramp provide access to the first floor image © designboom



image © designboom



continuous ramp connects each floor of exhibition space image © designboom



image © designboom

image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise


image © designboom



the museum features over 6000 artworks image © designboom



image © designboom



image © designboom



view of the sixth floor which features numerous sculptures by rodin image courtesy of fernando romero enterprise



image © designboom

see our previous article on the soumaya museum



  • inspired by patheon? guggenheim NY?
    I love it.
    I love how purposely introvert it is being designed


    Norman says:
  • Amazing how petty some people are, always looking for the first chance to cry about all the injustice in the world and put people down. Architects, Designers et al. do work for their relatives and friends all the time, what’s big deal? The notoriety of the client doesn’t make this any less interesting or valuable. Add substance to your critique or move on.

    JJ says:
  • well, I was there just 4 days ago… during the arquine architectural congress and I have some comments…

    * no real entrance approach, as the entry is done through parking lot, with concrete remnants from construction that jut out of the base of the building that are currently being used as seating.
    * the base of building was left in exposed concrete and it seems obvious it was not the original plan as it is a very poorly poured and finished detail.
    * the soft curved walls that envelope the building from the inside can be judged at a distance to be made of cement drywall… so you can see a lot of imperfections not only on the finish but on the curvature as well,… in my opinion not a good execution.
    * the floor on upper levels is covered with laminated wood, and very poorly detailed,… specially where ramps meet the different levels and most specially for all subfloor electric outlets. poor workmanship really stands out.
    * the exposed steel structure on top floor was not to be left uncovered as per original renders,… and the result is a visible structure clearly not designed to be left exposed, as joints and details look gruesome and unresolved.
    * last but not least, the design and showcase of the art pieces is not well resolved,… it almost looks like the pieces were thrown around in aleatory form (specially on top floor)…

    So in general, as an icon it works very well (and the facade is well resolved) but interior details lack commitment to quality (as Mr Romero stated clearly himself on the interview).

    My guess is to fault Slim for meddling around, as the lack of quality on interiors seems related to budget or time constraints.

    juan lacape says:
  • When you look the building for the first time it’s impressive, and compare with monsters of Santa Fe and Polanco is another world, something you can usually see abroad. Inside the art is more beautiful than the walls, this is how it should be. I think this museo can raise the profile of architecture in our country.

    Carlos says:
  • It’s an interesting project, the shape and the materials. A beautiful object and amazing architecture. I only have three comments: Light, being such an important element in Mexican architecture, is absent. I only see artificial light in the galeries, with some natural light on the top. It would have been nice also to have some views, connection with the city. And there are no green spaces. But overall, It’s a great addition to Mexican architecture

    Luis M. Aguilar says:
  • in my opinion this is another example of random architecture, which tries to exhibit itself more than any piece of art which will be presented inside of it in future.

    when i´m looking at the photos above i get the strong feeling that romero missed to create a beautiful meditative interior space, which would be more important than that supposed “impressive” display of a freeform-facade.

    moreover the double curved facade panelised with hexagonal shaped elements is maybe a modern vocabulary within the parametric-design-grammar of architectural students and some young designers but it lacks the differentiation that goes one step further than using grasshopper at school.

    in future we will see much more of these designs. a trip to town will be like walking on the bookshelf of a designer full with his little forms and ideas, detached from any context and relationship.

    i´m wondering why architecture and design should not be more than formal arbitrariness supporting the egos of some appreciation-addicts?

    incal says:
  • Rodin’s sculptures look much better outside . This top level space is beautiful but it does not breath the life that an outdoor setting does. One very early morning 7 AM in the early 1970’s I was given the opportunity to walk about the grounds of Joseph Hirshorn’s estate and look at his sculpture collection. A piece I kept coming back to was one of Rodin’s.

    Paedra says:
  • I mainly agree with incal: random architecture, well put. All Romero’s design I have seen on designboom looks like a lesser child of some ’60s-’70s urban and architectural design. Everything looks already outdated, even before being built. Some comments are too emotional. Most of this designs are unsufficiently sustainable. Romero seems to have a lot of energy but not enough awareness. You are right, who am I to say it? Still, my understanding of design is such.

    Bruno de Paris says:

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