The Museo Maya de América, to be located in Guatemala City, will become a leading venue for the public to view objects, artifacts, artworks, textiles, and information on the history and culture of the Maya civilization. The institution is among the most ambitious cultural projects in the region, approximately 60,000 square meters of construction (more than 600,000 square feet) with a budget of US$60 million.
“With an enormous sense of optimism and a vision for the future, we aim to create a museum that celebrates Mayan culture and carefully displays it,” stated Fernando Paiz, president of the sponsoring organization, Fundación Museo Maya de América. “We want the world to understand the sophistication and richness of this civilization in Guatemala and beyond.”
Proposed to be sited at a prominent location at the northern edge of La Aurora Park, and at the heart of the new metropolitan park of Guatemala City, the museum will be immediately visible when exiting Guatemala City’s international airport. It will become the capstone to a series of museums, including the Children’s Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. This cultural nexus—located in what is expected to become the largest recreational open space in the city—will provide a new destination for tourists and residents alike.
The Museo Maya de América’s striking design will contribute to that effort, drawing inspiration from the language of traditional Mayan temple architecture without directly replicating it. “At first glance, the building appears to be a contemporary expression of Mayan architectural elements,” stated Harry Gugger, principal of Harry Gugger Studio. “It forms a monolithic box perched atop blocks of stone, as if floating above the ground. On closer inspection, a pattern of staggered stone screens is punctuated by over-scaled loggias that draw light into the building and offer glimpses to the inside.” The building presents this large, abstract form to the surrounding city.
Organized for maximum public interaction with the site, the ground is given almost entirely to open space. The galleries reside within the floating box, connected to the lower levels by stairs that climb their way around a central courtyard. “The central courtyard evokes the cenote, a natural sinkhole characteristic of Petén and Yucatan, held sacred by the Maya,” stated Roberto de Oliveira Castro, principal of over,under. “Open to the sky and lushly planted, the eight-story cenote functions as the heart of the museum, its displays, and activities.” It forms an orientation point within the museum and extends down to the parking levels below ground, providing an interesting access into the museum and a special place to display underworld-related artifacts.
The building takes advantage of Guatemala’s temperate climate by naturally ventilating all but a small number of spaces that require artificial air-conditioning. The exhibition floors are organized in a checkerboard of galleries and circulation areas. The walls of the circulation spaces are lined with glass cases to place part of the collection of artifacts—normally in storage—in public view.
The landscaped roof is open to the general public as an accessible civic space, containing restaurants, outdoor galleries, gardens, and viewing terraces. The large surface of the roof will be used to collect rainwater and filter it down the cenote in a manner recalling traditional Mayan practices of channeling water.
The design of the Museo Maya de América has been developed by Harry Gugger Studio of Basel and over,under of Boston. Seis Arquitectos of Guatemala City will serve as the architect of record. Conceptual design work has been completed, and a fundraising campaign has commenced. Construction is expected to start in 2015 with completion by 2017.
Harry Gugger established his studio in 2010, after nineteen years of partnership at Herzog &
de Meuron, where he was in charge of the Tate Modern in London, the Caixa Forum in Madrid, the Schaulager in Basel, among many other museum projects. Drawing from this experience, Harry Gugger Studio (HGS) emphasizes the singularity of each project and explores its research potential by working closely with the client. In questioning the traditional role of the architect as the sole author of a building, HGS initiates a collaborative process that engages clients, other designers, consultants, and relevant experts. The firm’s highly professional structure is complemented by the cultivation of “dilettantism,” an approach that allows the design team to discover and capitalize on the unique characteristics of each commission.
over,under has worked with cultural and educational clients since the firm’s founding in 2006, most recently for the Boston Society of Architects, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Qatar Foundation. The firm’s principals have staged and curated more than three dozen exhibitions in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh, Caracas, Doha, and Vancouver. They have designed buildings and urban places across Central America and the Middle East. The practice’s approach emphasizes the coherent relationship of design across scales and disciplines, from exhibitions and graphics to architectural and urban environments.
Seis Arquitectos, founded in 1998, is a multidisciplinary design firm with extensive experience in Central America. The firm's principals collaborated on the design of the Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Dress in Guatemala City and presently are designing large commercial buildings in Heredia, Costa Rica and Asunción, Paraguay.