Case Studies

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science – Grimshaw Architects

Encouraging wonder and exploration through innovation in design

Comprised of four buildings totaling 250,000 square feet, The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (Frost Science) is a $300 million facility currently under construction in the heart of the Miami Arts and Entertainment District. With a projected completion date set for late 2016, the museum will inspire visitors in a new state-of-the-art facility designed by Grimshaw Architects.

The four buildings that make up the facility are connected via open-air walkways and terraces and consist of the Planetarium, the Innovation Center, the Exploration Center and the Living Core Aquarium, which will feature a microcosm of South Florida’s terrestrial and aquatic animal and plant species.

Creating an innovative ocean environment

In December 2014, the largest aquarium tank of over 500,000 gallons was poured in concrete, creating the sloping walls of the massive, cone-shaped vessel. “This was one of the most significant achievements of the project’s design and construction, realizing a form that had never been done,” says Christian Hoenigschmid, project designer for Grimshaw Architects.

In remaining true to the habitat of the creatures in the three story tank, the object will be what is known as a “Gulf Stream Tank,” by which it will contain species that live exclusively in the Gulf Stream. “Their environment is a boundaryless body of water, so together with the exhibit designers we came up with the shape of the tank to recreate this impression,” says Hoenigschmid. “By The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science - Grimshaw Architects working with the refraction of light affected by water of certain salinity and the use of the acrylic viewing window, you can’t see the walls of the vessel when you look in.”

A major feature of the Gulf Stream Tank is its shape, similar in form to the cone of a martini glass and filled with water from the adjacent Biscayne Bay. Construction crews worked night and day to construct the aquarium’s walls, pouring 120 truckloads of concrete, which included a 25-hour monolithic concrete pour and totaled 1,200 cubic yards. With the tip of its cone truncated in a glass oculus, visitors to the museum will be able to look up and see hammerhead sharks and tuna swimming overhead. This presents a challenge to construction crews as the acrylic glass lens is being built in Rome and cannot be fitted in until just before the aquarium is filled due to the weight of the 500,000 gallons of water holding it in place.

The museum has also installed 70 pumps and filtration systems that together form the life support system for the entire aquarium. This system can pump 15,800 gallons of water per minute using high efficiency motors with variable speed technology that yields significant energy savings by only operating at the speed necessary — typically well below the pump’s maximum speed. Frost Science has also installed 29 sand filters to remove particulate contaminants from the water and 16 protein skimmers to remove organic particles such as food and waste from the water.

Closer to completion

Recently the topping off and completion of the planetarium was celebrated. The fully enclosed, dome-shaped planetarium will be state of the art. The spherical form was constructed by assembling 32 concave precast concrete pieces, each weighing about 50,000 pounds, in a task not unlike assembling individual pieces of an orange peel in order to realize the form.

Hoenigschmid says that although projects such as Frost Science take a long time to complete, they are fun to watch develop. “It’s a lot like raising kids,” he says. “You have to let them take their own shape and trust in the process. It’s amazing to see the collaboration of so many people that create such a beautiful outcome. We receive a lot of gratification from the community.”

As construction rapidly comes to a close, both the client and project team, Grimshaw as the design architect, Rodriguez & Quiroga as the record architect and a multidisciplinary design team, eagerly anticipate the new building for the community, envisioning a festive environment that encourages wonder and exploration in a setting that reflects the unique energy of Miami.

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