08/21/2012 12:15 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2012

Gehry Goes South: Can The Starchitect Recreate The Bilbao Effect With Panama's New Bio-Museum?

With the arrival of Frank Gehry's twisting, titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in 1997, the small, shipbuilding town of Bilbao became a cultural destination, its name forever bonded to a dreamy urban renewal scheme known as the "Bilbao effect." Fifteen years after the completion of the Guggenheim Bilbao, Gehry is on his way to finishing his first project in Latin America, the Museum of Biodiversity (or Biomuseo) in Panama City, where conviction in the power of iconic architecture has been renewed.

Officials at Biomuseo have high hopes that the Gehry-designed building will emerge as "a new icon for Panama" when the decade-long design, construction, and approval process comes to a close this winter. Gehry -- whose wife is Panamanian -- has applied his signature formal fragmentation to create an eclectic and deliberately iconic structure, one that collages shape and color with the same caprice as a wide-eyed child in art class. Asymmetrically protruding, squiggling, and contorting canopies overlap like pieces of tinted cellophane, corrugated cardboard, and construction paper, catching the eyes of visitors arriving to the city by cruise ship.

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