Panama City

In a break from his curved, chrome façades (think Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles), Frank Gehry created jagged, colorful canopies for the new 43,000-square-foot Biomuseo, which opened in February. The exhibitions, organized by designer Bruce Mau—a 45-foot-long stained-glass wall, 14-foot-tall rock formations, two 30-foot-tall aquariums—illustrate the country's animal and plant diversity, which emerged after the isthmus connected the continents 3 million years ago. But the distinctive silhouette does more than just nod to its tropical home, according to Gehry's project architect Anand Devarajan: "We wanted to blur the separation between the inside and outside of the museum."

The skull of a giant sloth. Until about 11,000 years ago, Panama was home to these 20-foot-long, 4-ton ancestors of today's more diminutive tree dwellers.

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Museo Jumex
Mexico City

David Chipperfield is a master of minimalist drama—check out the spare, boxy Turner Contemporary in England or his monolithic extension for the Saint Louis Art Museum. His latest project, a four-story building that houses the 3,000-piece collection of Jumex fruit-juice heir Eugenio Lopez Alonso, gives artists like Robert Ryman and Fred Sandback an understated home that lets their work speak for itself. The entire façade is made of travertine, a marblelike stone with horizontal stripes that make up the dominant pattern. "But most special is the travertine floor finish in galleries," project architect Peter Jurschitzka says. "They're usually concrete or timber." The sawtooth crown comes with built-in skylights, an homage to the old factories in Nuevo Polanco, a former industrial neighborhood that's become a mini-Chelsea. The area can't quite shake its roots, though, says Jurschitzka: "A freight train still passes by six or seven times a day."

Gabriel Orozco's Oval Billiard Table (1996), intended less for banking shots than for math geeks keen on odd geometric angles.

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Musée Des Confluences
Lyon, France

The name comes from the location, where the Rhȏne and Saȏne rivers meet. But it also hints at what's inside: rare anthropological exhibitions housed in a structure fit for a Bond villain. "The entire building floats in the air," architect Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au has said, adding that his design—12 years in the making—"symbolizes the intersection of science and art."

"The ladies of Téviec," two over-6,500-year-old skeletons found side by side, decorated in jewelry made out of shells, on the French island in 1928.

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Aspen Art Museum
Aspen, Colorado

Pritzker Prize–winning architect Shigeru Ban is known for his simple, cardboard-tube furniture. But here he designed a few embellishments to give the museum—which opened in August and will feature a series of shows from international artists like Ernesto Neto, Rosemarie Trockel, and Yves Klein—more of an upscale profile. Project architect Zachary Moreland explains:

1. The Staircase
"It lets you to go straight to the roof from the street, like how you approach a mountain when skiing: You go up, take in the view, then descend."

2. The Elevator
The 8-by-12-foot all-glass "moving room" animates "a prominent corner of the site. There may be art programs in the elevator itself."

3. The Façade
"It's a natural wood veneer"—the synthetic material Prodema—that's interwoven "to create this space that's not quite inside or outside."

Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang's Moving Ghost Town, which will turn the rooftop over to three African Sulcata tortoises who'll roam the premises on turf similar in feel to their local grasslands.

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