panamaniacs

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A fine looking family of high-rise models there.  Iowa State Interior Design Chair Lee Cagley and I are closing in on 2/3 of the way through another interdisciplinary integrated design studio (how’s that for architectural education buzzwords…), again focusing on a former U.S. military site at the mouth of the Panama Canal.  We have teams of architects and interior designers working together to navigate the contradictions and possibilities of building in a city that’s both profoundly global, and at the same time very tied to its specific geography, climate, and culture.

IMG_7812The Amador Peninsula is one of the most intriguing and oddest sites I’ve based a studio on.  It’s a long, flat piece of land that extends east into the Pacific Ocean (yep–east into the Pacific Ocean, a consequence of Panama’s twisting shape) and tapers off to a three-mile long causeway connecting three islands.  It’s a great morning run, especially before the sun comes up and makes everything hot, but it’s also a spot with impressive views of the daily choreography of ships maneuvering into the Canal, and of Panama’s exploding skyline.  There’s a Frank Gehry museum at the junction between the actual land and the causeway, and a gigantic convention center under construction.  Our studio is developing ideas for three sites that would complement the convention center, along programs for a microtel, a nightclub hotel, and a spa hotel.  In each case, students have to develop designs that respond to the local climate, cater to guests who we assume will be attending international scale conventions, and take advantage of views that are literally 360°.

IMG_7885About 20 of us spent the better part of a week there last month, watching the container ship ballet at Miraflores Locks, communing with spider and night monkeys in the Gamboa Rainforest center, and getting lost in traffic.  The major drawback of traveling to Panama City is its total lack of mass transit, something that’s probably scotching future trips as the interdisciplinary nature of the studio has made it increasingly popular–coordinating three minivans made for a logistically fascinating trip.  But the payoffs were utterly worth it–a building culture exemplified by stone and stucco buildings in Casco Viejo, sublime views of the rainforest canopy, and hikes up surrounding hills that let students understand the layers of colonial and contemporary growth in Central America’s fastest-growing economy.

IMG_7999Yesterday’s mid-review went well, with input from interior design, architecture, and landscape architecture faculty and practitioners.  The range of responses, even with tightly delineated program, zoning, and code requirements, has been remarkable, and we’re looking forward to seeing some strong schemes get developed over the last five weeks of the term.  Also hoping to live up to last year’s sweep of the Hospitality Design student awards…