Puebla is home to almost 6 million people. It has a long history, was the site of an important victory against French forces in 1862, produces the world famous Talavera tiles and is home to one of the largest Volkswagen factories in the world. The city also has a large collection of baroque style churches and other buildings and recently acquired a stunning new museum designed by Japanese architect, Toyo Ito. I was able to visit the museum during my recent visit to Mexico.
The Museo International del Barroco opened earlier this year. It's collections include paintings, furniture, ceramics, clothing and religious objects as well as partial reconstructions of baroque churches and even a theatre! Extensive use of inter-active technology is made in line with current developments in displaying and promoting heritage collections. I liked this approach to presentation which ensures appeal for both traditional museum visitors and newer, younger audiences. At the time of my visit there was also a superb temporary exhibition of baroque items drawn from international collections in Belgium, Spain, Austria and even Liechtenstein.
As much as I enjoyed the exhibitions, the main reason for my visit was to admire Toyo Ito's spectacular architecture. A series of brilliant white folds, curves and cylinders, the museum is set in a brand new eco-park on the outskirts of the city. The contrast with the bright blue Mexican sky adds drama to the experience of a visit and is a bit of a show stopper especially on a first visit!
The building's design seeks to incorporate baroque principles. This is demonstrated through the fluidity of the design with the curved walls avoiding the rigidity of many museum buildings. The use of light to draw visitors from one space to another is also a reference to baroque principles with light symbolising the victory of good over darkness whilst locating the museum within the new park emphasises links with nature. Issues of environment and sustainability were also considered in the design and extensive use is made of external air in order to reduce the building's energy consumption - and also costs.
In addition to the exhibition spaces, there is a central patio and pool, open to the public and accessible from several points within the building. Hidden from the exterior, it provides yet another stunning visual experience, again with that beautiful contrast between the white of the structure and the blue sky. and water. The exhibitions are set out on the ground floor where there is also a gift shop offering a range of baroque related books and other items as well as some regional craft products. The upper level is devoted to research and education and is accessed by a dramatic white staircase immediately visible on entering the lobby. There is also a cafe on the first floor.
I know from many years of working in the cultural sector that providing wonderful buildings to show off even the most wonderful of collections or services can fail if the human element is neglected. The Museo International del Barroso addresses this fundamental concern through its wonderful, friendly and knowledgeable staff who welcome visitors not only on their arrival but also in each of the galleries. The staff have an obvious pride in their building and exhibitions and are keen to make sure people get the most from their visit. It was also good to see the eco-park being taken care of with a team of workers looking after things - and also wishing "buenos dias" to passers-by. I will certainly visit again.