Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Backstory and Context
The Junior Museum of Miami was founded by the Junior League of Miami in 1949. This museum was a forebear to the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. With fund-raising and continual efforts, the “Project Finding Committee” created the first iteration of the museum in 1950 in a small house. The museum expanded at such a fast rate that by 1952 it had to move to the Miami Women's Club, and in 1953, the Guild of the Museum of Science was formed, and the Museum was renamed to the Museum of Science and Natural History (MSN). Exhibits included archeological artifacts and items from Florida, as well as physics displays and live animals, such as honeybees. MSNH was primarily run by volunteers, who were instrumental to the rapid growth experienced by the organization. In 1960, Miami-Dade County funded a 48,000 square foot museum at the historic Vizcaya property.
The move to Vizcaya allowed MSNH to expand its offerings significantly. The Museum’s first science summer camp was run in 1965 and received numerous awards for its quality. The Space Transit Planetarium was added in 1966. The planetarium included a Spitz Model B Space Transit Projector, which was the last operational projector of this model when it was retired in 2015. The Space Transit Planetarium was made possible in part due to the efforts of museum employee Jack Horkheimer. Over the next ten years after the planetarium was added, Horkheimer became a local celebrity, often appearing on local news shows to talk about upcoming astronomical events. By the early 1970s, a local Public Broadcasting Service station was collaborating with Horkheimer to create programs that educated the public about astronomy. The show – titled, “Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler” – became nationally syndicated in 1985 and reached international audiences in 1989. Horkheimer singlehandedly wrote, coordinated, and hosted each episode from the Space Transit Planetarium. In 1991, MSNH added the Batchelor Wildlife Center. This museum component rehabilitates over four hundred birds of prey each year.
Despite renovations and expansions throughout the twentieth century, MSNH had outgrown their home on the Vizcaya property by the early twenty-first century. Plans for a new facility started to be made in 2004, and the current site in Museum Park was purchased in 2009. Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost, supporters of arts and culture in Miami, donated $35 million to name the museum at its new location. Construction on the new 250,000 square foot building began in 2012 and was completed by 2017. MSNH continued to operate at Vizcaya until 2015, when it began moving into the new building. However, the Batchelor Wildlife Center, administrative offices, and several educational programs remained in the previous location.
Grimshaw architects were selected to design the new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum. Similar to nearby Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Frost Museum faces Biscayne Bay and allows indoor and outdoor spaces to flow effortlessly into each other. The museum is divided into four buildings clustered around a central atrium. The north and west wing buildings serve as welcoming arms to the site. They contain ecological and natural history galleries, as well as temporary exhibits. The wings meet at the focal point of the site – a 500,000-gallon aquarium filled with native aquatic life. The cone shaped tank of the aquarium spans three floors and is completely corner-less, which allows both fauna and viewing to be completely unimpeded. Opposite from the aquarium is the Frost Planetarium. The Planetarium boasts a 250-person capacity under a 16-million-color 8K projection dome. The forty-million-pixel display also features 3D technology. An observation deck on the roof provides views of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay. The Museum as a whole is utilitarian, but accents remind visitors of the building’s function. Geometric textures on the outer walls tesselate sunlight over the building and illuminate the inner galleries. Paneling throughout the museum resembles plant cells or computer code. The organic drip of the aquarium is simultaneously contrasted and complemented by the more iconically human bulb of the planetarium. Though the Museum is a place of science, it also achieves architectural unity with this pursuit.
In addition to the Frost Planetarium and Aquarium, the Frost Museum also features a variety of science related exhibits. These range from biological explorations of the human body, to ecological examinations of biomes, to natural history displays of ancient flora and fauna. The Frost Museum focuses on serving local communities, especially young people. One way it does this is through continued hosting of the award-winning science camps for which MSNH was renowned. Other programs aimed at pre-teens include field trip tours and digital supplementary learning. However, the Frost Museum is not solely a children’s museum. Programs for adults aim to bring community members together through volunteering and other group pursuits. The Museum also offers workshops, internships, and career opportunities to educators and STEM professionals. Finally, the Frost Museum supports STEM research in partnership with several federal agencies. The Frost Museum is a bastion of STEM learning for curious individuals of all ages.
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