Another Magic Kingdom
Beth Dunlop -- Interior Design, 2/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Outside and in, the Miami Children's Museum engages the imagination. The form is familiar, yet not so: a castle conjured from fairy tales but transformed into an abstraction. An apt image for a place that lets children find fantasy in the worlds of both make-believe and real life.
Built by Arquitectonica with interiors by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, the $25 million museum sits on an island just across the channel from the Port of Miami, on the causeway between downtown and Miami Beach. A choice setting offering opportunities for high visibility and image making.
The two-story building's exterior is spare and geometric, enigmatic enough to engage fertile young minds. Walls fold and unfold, like an origami castle of tilt-up concrete panels, while others undulate, like a sand castle on the beach. The entrance, an upside-down cone, welcomes no single interpretation. A wizard's hat? Rapunzel's hideaway? A volcano?
A study in contrasts, exterior and interior unexpectedly come together as a seamless whole. Arquitectonica's main portion is the sleek entry. Here, terrazzo floors swirl in a wave pattern of sea and sky tones delineated by a thin aluminum spiral—the design drawn from the inside of a nautilus shell. Walls reiterate the colors and forms, but in paint.
The remainder of the 55,000-square-foot museum is Skolnick's, and it's chock-full of kaleidoscopic color, shifting light, reverberating sound, and imagery galore. Cartoonlike manipulations of scale make big seem small and small big, appealing to those under 5 feet tall. "I distorted without being cutesy, without pandering. Kids can be much more sophisticated than we give them credit for," says principal and founder Lee H. Skolnick.
Another crucial factor was durability. Materials needed to withstand all forms of small-scale abuse. So Skolnick employed nylon broadloom carpet, rubber and vinyl flooring, and an array of plastic, metal, and wood laminates on all surfaces within touching range of grubby fingers.
A trip through the galleries, he says, takes you on a "journey for kids, starting with the familiar and working toward the unfamiliar." Some rooms portray the everyday worlds of shops and banks. Other exhibits explore the Everglades, the Biscayne Bay coastal environment, and the seashore, with a specially small-scaled Under the Sea room for the very littlest of toddlers and a By the Sea room for preschoolers old enough to appreciate a fishing boat that's actually a game.
Skolnick hired various artists, many of them book illustrators, to paint trompe l'oeil ceilings and whimsical yet representational murals. Several were adapted from book-size images and enlarged using digital technology. A Cubist-inspired mural by Zita Ashbaghi introduces the syncopated rhythms of jazz to the World Music Studio; Rob Dunlavey's cloud illustrations animate the Kidscape Village area.
Skolnick designed the three-dimensional sea creatures that dangle from the ceiling, while Robert Martin crafted the brass-and-copper instrument sculpture for the World Music Studio. Two local artists, Carlos Alves and the late Marina Fernandez, contributed to the museum's central icon: a three-story sand castle of concrete inset with a mosaic of ceramic and glass. "It gave us license to be colorful, joyful, and supercool," says Skolnick. "It's for children." And it's in Miami.