Atrium, Biomuseo, Panama, 2014. Photograph: Fernando Alda
Perhaps it’s the uncanny familiarity of Frank Gehry’s plan that accounts for Fernando Alda’s fascination with the atrium of Panama’s Biomuseo: it echoes the Dukes of Medinaceli’s 16th century palace in the architectural photographer’s home city of Seville in Spain. Like Gehry’s first Latin American building, that too enjoys cool, spacious, high reception halls all accessed off a central court; a formal place of display for family and, in the case here, of state. The dukes’ visits to the Holy Land and their palace’s proximity to the route of the famous Holy Week pilgrimage saw it gain the moniker, over time, of ‘Pilate’s House’ – a presumed copy of the Jerusalem original.
There was no washing of hands on this project though. Gehry, whose wife is Panamanian, was emotionally committed to the $60m museum; an angular form of fragmented, folded, brightly coloured roofs that stare out over the Amador Causeway to Panama City’s towers. Alda says he’s not particularly a Gehry fan but is struck by how photogenic his buildings are – and he was keen to document a less obvious interior view rather than the iconic exteriors the architect is famous for. Alda was transfixed by tropical light bleeding onto the fractured soffits of its central space, held up by steel branches springing from concrete ‘trees’.
The many colours of the roofs’ exterior must have appealed to Alda’s painterly side – commercial photography originally supported his attempts to be artist. Then, needing to settle a fee with an architect who did some work on his studio, he shot the practice’s buildings as a means of paying it, something that launched his career. An ancient form of barter? Thirty pieces of silver? Either way, unlike Pilate, he never had cause to regret his decision.