From Panama’s Biomeo and installation by Bruce Mau. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Art Museum by Timothy Tiebout)

From Panama’s Biomeo and installation by Bruce Mau. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Art Museum by Timothy Tiebout)

by Diane M. Fiske

Architects design buildings and spaces, but they are dependent upon people seeing their creations and understanding their meaning and use.

Bruce Mau, the subject of an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art called “Work on What You Love” demonstrates the teamwork behind architectural creativity.

The exhibit focuses on how Mau, a Canadian, who started as a book designer, developed a system of collaboration and encouragement that has resulted in his working with Frank Gehry on at least three major projects as well as other major architects and designers. Among other things, Mau helps facilitate the communication process between the public and its architects and planners.

The exhibit, which will continue in the Museum’s Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman building until April 3, includes a model of the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama City designed by Gehry, as well as examples of his collaboration with the famous architect in his design of the Walt Disney Theater in Los Angeles.

Responsible for organizing the exhibit is Kathryn Hiesinger, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident and a senior curator at the Philadelphia museum who suggested that the Design Excellence Award of the Collab, a modern and contemporary design support group, be presented to Mau. Hiesinger then worked on the exhibition with Mau after he agreed to accept the award.

Mau, who calls his consultants group Massive Change Network, conceived arrangement of the new interpretive galleries in the museum in Panama, created by Gehry. The gallery illustrates life in Panama at the point where the Pacific and Caribbean meet, separated only by the Isthmus of Panama. The museum mural shows animals facing towards both oceans as an example of this unique setting.

In a presentation at the opening of the Philadelphia exhibit, Mau said he wanted a way of demonstrating that the meeting point of the two oceans, divided by Panama millions of years ago, result in a unique atmosphere for aquatic life and a chance to study this phenomenon. This opportunity is made clear to people visiting the Panama museum because a transparent floor allows them to peer into the water and see sea life swimming toward both oceans.

“The Biomeeo in Panama City, which was designed in collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Gehry Partners and the University of Panama,” Mau said,” is the world’s first museum of biodiversity.

“When Panama formed some six million years ago, it cut one ocean environment into two, Pacific and Caribbean, and joined two island ecologies into one: North and South America linked by the Isthmus of Panama. Our approach was to consider Panama as the real ‘museum’ and Frank Gehry’s building as the lobby.”

Another of his collaborations with Gehry was the Walt Disney Theater in Los Angeles, Mau, working with Gehry, also created a set of directions for visitors to navigate through the concert hall.

“Designers have the ability to see the world in a different way, to see the future with practical optimism, “Mau said. “On every level, they are thinking about how to remake our world.”

The exhibit includes other designs in which he worked in collaboration with other architects, photographers and artists. Displayed on a wall in the exhibit gallery, where visitors enter, covers of about 200 books Mau wrote or designed are spread out in a colorful display covering the entire wall. In addition, in the gallery there are displays of furniture he designed.

Hiesinger said she chose Mau simply because “He is so good.”

“He sees design as a leadership method, “she said. “ He is a forerunner of design thinking … This is a hot topic this day. Social practice is intended to have social and ethical manifestations.”

She said the Chicago-based Mau sees design as a “leadership method that works if others also want to go there.” She pointed out that his leadership philosophy is demonstrated in various parts of the display, such as his “Manifesto for Growth,” which includes 43 points for would-be leaders to use to “maintain a truly creative and meaningful life.”

These points include ideas such as, “allow events to change you” and “process is more important than outcome” as well as ”love your experiments as you would an ugly child.”

The points have been collected and circulated among his admirers.

“I had no idea how much the points would resonate with other people,” he said. ”It turned into a call for designers, for everyone to take responsibility for their own growth.”

Diane M. Fiske, a Chestnut Hill resident, is a news and magazine writer who specializes in architecture and education.

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