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New Miami art museum taking shape at water’s edge

On the water’s edge in Bicentennial Park, the unconventional shape of Miami’s under-construction, $220 million art museum, inspired by the offshore houses of Stiltsville, has become impressively apparent.

Right now, just past the halfway point, hundreds of temporary yellow metal rods support what promises to be what Bloomberg architecture critic James S. Russell called a “bravura’’ work of design and construction.

But once work is done, in about a year, the arrangement of interconnected, raw-concrete boxes, supported by a few slender columns, will appear to float in the air beneath a flat, overhanging canopy bedecked with hanging vines.

The massive boxes contain a series of soaring exhibition spaces and classrooms whose industrial feel recalls, if on a far smaller scale, the London power station that its star architects, the Swiss firm of Herzog & deMeuron, turned into the hugely popular Tate Modern.

As he led reporters through the building on a sweltering morning, Miami Art Museum director Thom Collins noted the unusually open expanse of the gallery floors, only one of which has any visible means of support beyond its walls. The largest gallery has but one solitary column in the middle of the floor.

That’s made possible by the Cobiax system, in which air “voids’’ are installed inside the concrete slabs to substantially reduce their weight, meaning floors can span several times the usual expanse without the use of columns. It’s the first time the system is being used in the United States, Collins said.

Along the exterior, openings that provide panoramic views of Biscayne Bay, Government Cut and the downtown skyline will soon be sealed off with expansive, clear windows made from what museum administrators say are — at 16½ feet by 17½ feet — the largest hurricane-resistant glass panels ever made.

An open-air terrace, elevated on a platform, surrounds the building. A grand staircase leading down from the terrace to the bay’s edge — and what city of Miami officials promise will be a new baywalk — is already in place.

Next, crews will begin installing the roof canopy, which will overhang the terrace, shade the building, and fully conceal mechanical equipment from the view of residents of the ritzy condo towers across Biscayne Boulevard. The canopy will also collect rainwater for the hanging vines, which will have built-in irrigation.

Construction is now about 55 percent done, with an expected completion date in September 2013. In November 2013, the museum will reopen as the Perez Art Museum Miami, or PAMM, after developer Jorge Perez, who made a $35 million gift, with a grand opening set for the week before that year’s Art Basel/Miami Beach fest.

By then, trees will be growing through holes in the platform deck, part of an elaborate landscaping plan that will make the museum look as if it’s emerging from a subtropical jungle, like a set from Lost.