Panama Pacifico…the GREAT, the Bad, and the Ugly

Panama Pacifico Town Center

Panama Pacifico is a new mega-development at the former Howard Air Force Base, across the canal from Panama City.  This is actually more of a new city than a new development.  It lists itself as 1,400 hectares of land (650 of which is reserved for open space and parklands) and will create 1 million square meters of commercial space, 20,000 residences, 40,000 new jobs, hotels, retail centers, places of worship, schools, parks, recreation areas and of course….a championship golf course.


My first reaction when seeing the news of Panama Pacifico was complete awe at the scale and scope of work.  This project makes perfect sense though.  Located at the mouth of the canal, it is connected already to existing infrastructure, is only 15 minutes from downtown, but far far away from the hectic atmosphere of Panama City.  There is so much clear land already because of the air base, in fact the developers will actually be planting more trees.  I am really impressed with the ambitions of Panama-Pacifico.  I do not totally agree with some of the non-architectural related ideas of the development, such as private security, and creating a special economic area where country wide worker standards don’t apply…..but lets stick to the architecture and urban design.  Read more on the next page…………..

The GreatCentral Park

Town Center

I really love this idea, a mix of business and housing with the required facilities to support them (the live, work, play neighborhood).  The Town Center will be a high density mix of housing, retail, office space, hotels, and residential neighborhoods.  This is the compact town design of the  future.  All necessities for living are within walking distance eliminating the dependency on the automobile.  It is unclear to me if there is any light rail for transportation within this neighborhood….I hope there is, but all that is mentioned is that there will be bus lines within the town center.

There are a number of different scales throughout the town center.  Town Center PlazaHousing sizes range from apartments within a large mixed-use building, to townhomes and single family detached homes.  There are several types of parks, the large Central Park where I can immagine all of the festivities taking place.  Finger parks and Plazas are dispersed throughout the town center for a more intimate open space.  These smaller parks are great for the tropical environment because they provide the proper shading to make both the park and the adjacent buildings more comfortable.  Also, there is a Greenwaygreenway running through the town center, providing safe bicycle and walking routes.

The Developer has commited to eco-friendly design in both the master plan and building designs.  Although Panama City has a very high density, there are very few public parks or open spaces to provide relief from the heat and the traffic.  The town center of Panama Pacifico is maintaining a high density while adding safe public spaces at ground level.  The ground level will not be ruled by the automobile as in Panama City and pedestrians will have places to relax and enjoy the city.

Mixed Use Buildings

Mixed Use 1Mixed Use 2Mixing housing, office spaces, and retail is vital to creating a livable city.  Also, creating a mix of housing types is vital to attracting residents from various demographics.  The mixed use buildings in the center will have shops, restaurants, and small business on the ground floor, creating a friendly environment for the pedestrian, while the top floors are occupied by apartments and condominiums.  This also creates a vibrant neighborhood at all times of the day and night.  The streets will always be occupied by residents, workers, or shoppers.

The Bad

I understand that cities require manufacturing and business centers in order to maintin a sustainable economy.  I am not going to complain about that.  But I am going to complain about the design of the office and manufacturing buildings!!

It seems that the architects forgot that they were designing buildings for a tropical climate.  Does this image businessparklook as if it belongs in Panama, New Jersey, or Berlin???  The developers claim a green design by putting “double pane” windows in these buildings, thus reducing the loss air conditioned environment.  Yet the tropical climates already have solutions to reduce the inside temperature of buildings.  Bris Soleils (sun louvers) could protect the facade from heating by the sun, windows could be operable, vegetation could provide shade. ….  No the developer chose to use a standard north american design without an regard for the climate and environment.  I believe that their claim of an eco-friendly design is green wash in this case.

The Ugly

Again, I could complain about the inclusion of single family homes in this development because they requireugly more land than necessary.  But I will take that as a trade off for the great town center.  I believe that there must be a mix in housing typologies in order to provide housing options for all classes.

I do find the designs of the single family homes to be hideous!  Why are we still immitating Mediterranean designs in Panama?  These homes could be in Italy, Spain, Southern California, Florida, Mexico, Bermuda….etc.   Please show some originality architects!  Look at the homes of the past American military bases in Panama.  I think that these are unique and adapt to the environment well.  They are raised on pilotis to encourage air flow beneath the structure and they have large overhangs to provide shading and protection from the rains.  It is unfortunate that modern houses in Panama must reach to the distant past for inspiration, totally ignoring the more modern (yet still historical) designs of the Canal Zone housing and architecture of the existing Howard Air Base.  Although I still hope for more modern designs, I believe that the architecture of the Canal Zone and Howard Air Base are in fact more Panamanian than these colonial replicas.

Oh well….I am very happy overall with Panama Pacifico, I can not wait to see some built results!

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