PANAMA CITY (AP) – After years of delays, a museum in Panama designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry opens to the public this week, and officials hope it will become a cultural landmark and symbolize the country's recent economic ascent.
The Biomuseo, located at the Pacific Ocean gateway to the Panama Canal, celebrates the isthmus nation's history not as a crossroads of trade but as one of the world's most-diverse ecosystems, with more bird, mammal and reptile species than the United States and Canada combined. The museum's eight galleries trace Panama's natural history dating back to its geological formation 3 million years ago.
The Los Angeles-based architect is married to a Panamanian and chose his wife's homeland for his first design in Latin America. He previously worked as an engineering adviser on Mexico City's Soumaya museum, which houses an art collection owned by billionaire Carlos Slim.
Gehry, 85, wasn't present for the museum's inauguration by President Juan Carlos Varela and several of the country's business and political leaders. It opens n Thursday.
The museum bears Gehry's trademark metallic curves and canopies, made famous by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. But it's painted in bright pastels to reflect its tropical setting.
The project has suffered numerous setbacks since it was conceived in 1999, shortly after Panama took over control of the U.S.-built canal.
Originally budgeted at $40 million and expected to be completed within a few years, construction was halted from 2005 to 2007 after then-President Martín Torrijos pulled government financing for the project.
His successor, Ricardo Martinelli, resumed financial support. But the final cost surged to around $100 million, making it a symbol of the uncontrolled spending to critics and widespread corruption that has marred the country's reputation for economic growth fueled by a government-led construction boom.