You cannot miss this building as you drive around downtown Dubai. This futuristic building covered in Arabic script simmering in the desert sun is The Museum of the Future, which opened exactly a year ago today.
When it finally opened on 22 February 2022, Dubai’s new Museum of the Future was already one of the city’s favourite buildings. And how could it not be? For six years, residents and visitors alike had curiously watched every step of the construction process of this shimmering silver landmark located on Dubai’s main highway, Sheikh Zayed Road.
And with all the boundary-pushing technological advancements used by Killa Design architects and engineered by Buro Happold engineering consultancy to bring the building to life, the Museum of the Future has brought the future of architecture to life in the Dubai of today.
The green mound that the Museum of the Future sits upon represents Earth, with the main building symbolising humanity. The void at the centre represents what we don’t yet know about the future. In other words, the unknown.
The real beauty is the space itself and the museum’s now immediately recognisable shape. The torus form and off-center void give a feeling of perpetual motion. If it had been a perfect oval, it would have been stagnant. There’s a sense that it’s constantly in movement. The future is always moving, and you’ve got to keep up with it.
Bring the Building to Life
Throughout the ages, starting with the Pyramids in Giza and the Pantheon in Rome, many of the world’s greatest buildings were at the limits of the technology of their day.
The building is based on a diagrid structure with the skeleton forming the main support. Inside, the space is entirely without columns as it’s basically like an egg, and an egg is a very strong, nature structure. On the building’s surface, the 1,024 panels, representing a kilobyte of data, were cut with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. And every single one of those panels is different.
For the spiral staircase in the lobby, the tallest double helix staircase in the world, they had to find a manufacturer of submarine noses who had the technology and equipment to bend the steel to build this seemingly simple yet challenging structure.
The Arabic calligraphy that covers the building functions as windows as well as decoration. The script, written by Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej, is based on three quotes from Sheikh Mohammed, the most famous of which is “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it. It isn’t something you await, but rather create.”
The calligraphy, in the classical Thuluth Arabic script, was first sketched out by hand by Bin Lahej, who describes the museum not as a building but as “an art piece.” But the torus proved tricky to combine the three quotes on the building when it doesn’t have corners.
It took the team four and a half months to figure out how to take something flat and stick it on a building that’s parametrically designed, and that’s just swept arcs with no ‘surface’. Eventually, they decided to use film-making software for rendering texture on CGI dinosaurs; the team tricked the software by cutting the building into pieces, pretending that it wasn’t one continuous surface by “removing” the top.
Most museums show exhibits from the past or the present, so what exactly is a museum of the future? Each of the floors represents the future of healthcare, transportation, aviation, smart cities, government services, space travel, etc. But it’s the future as we understand it for maybe the next two to three years.
In the cavernous lobby, a penguin-shaped drone swims through the air to a futuristic soundtrack of bleeps and bloops.
You might think that it was floating along using AI autonomously; I saw a staff remote controlling the “airship”. So much for the future.
An elevator, masquerading as a spacecraft with screens for windows, shoots visitors upwards on a four-minute flight to the OSS Hope space station, 600 kilometres above the earth and 50 years into the future (2071). The vision was to colonise the moon.
I would expect that with all the money spent on the building itself, one would use the most advance ride technology from Disney or Universal for an immersive experience of the future. Instead, one is greeted with some really low tech, interactive displays, with “space guides” trying to recruit us as “space cadets”. Even a kid these days would not fall for these cheap theatrics. So everyone just moved through it quickly.
Next stop, the future on Mother Earth. And biggest thing on everyone’s mind right now is conservation and preservation of life as we know it.
The journey to the future continues to the Heal Institute, where visitors will experience an ecosystem simulator tested for new species.
First up, you can immerse yourself in a mixed reality recreation of the Amazon rainforest. Through audiovisual and digital animations, one can see the interplay of hundreds of species and observe details invisible to the naked eye.
The next exhibit is a modern day Noah’s Ark called the ‘Vault of Life’. Real scientists were sent to Amazon for two weeks who went to digitally map the DNA of around 2,400 species. No real animal, plant or microscopic organism, alive or extinct, is on display.
The collected information are being shown at the museum, in these “little jars” that resembled the taxidermy exhibits in a mad scientist’s lab with its psychedelic colours and ultra-modern display.
There’s a library of 4,500 animal DNA codes to “collect” on smart devices. All you need is to bring the device near the 3D engraved image and it will display the information. And if the image turns red, it meant that it’s either extinct or endangered. Very smart use of technology, this I like.
Visitors can “mix and match” various DNA sequences and see what extinct species can come to life and also have the code to preserve the threatened species and participate in a global effort to repair the damages of climate change..
Meaning “oasis” in Arabic, Al Waha resembles a mauve-coloured Moroccan Riad with an arched passageway leading to a central courtyard to experience the restorative effects of movement, meditation and water.
The first of which is movement: I walk across a soft carpet resembling fine white sand, thanks to audiovisual effects. With each step leaving an imprint, I am encouraged to walk and breathe slower and focus on each stride.
Travel to a sanctuary from digital life. Explore a centre for the human senses where you are encouraged to disconnect from technology and reconnect to your mind, body, and spirit. Immerse yourself in vibrations that rebalance electromagnetic fields and restore our natural rhythms. Beneath a dome of light and water, place the present on pause and imagine what could be.
The final feature of Al Waha is my favourite. The circular meditation centre is brilliantly ethereal with comfortable seats arranged around a projector beaming water ripples and waves on the ceiling. Coupled by the droning sounds of the ocean and sea life, I sit in the dimly lit room for nearly half an hour, lost in the images above.
Tomorrow Today explores near-future technologies from the world’s leading innovators.
This Audi e-tron GT car is one of the first e-cars made as part of the project “Vision Gran Turisimo” which started in 2013. The fictional car born in the game world has become a reality. This was the exact same car revealed in 2018 in Tokyo.
Sedric, short for self-driving car – an all- electric autonomous concept car that can be used for car sharing – just like a taxi or school bus – but also for use as a private car. The concept features five scanners, seven cameras and a number of additional sensors to make it a Level 5 fully autonomous vehicle, enabling it to mimic the behaviour of any human-driven car.
The future tech area has a touch of “Black Mirror” about it, ranging from the frankly terrifying CyberDog to under-skin payment chips, virus-resistant clothing and a falcon-shaped robot designed to control real bird populations.
Much of the future is about mimicking the natural world and taking inspiration from the natural world to enhance/enable the way we move around, work and live. These include micro-climate jackets, building materials resembling the structure of plants, and bionic limbs.
And the final frontier, how do we colonise the Moon? Over the last decade, the architecture practice Foster + Partners, as part of a consortium set up by the ESA, have explored the possibilities of building a permanent base on the moon. This study investigates the use of lunar soil as a building material that can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high-temperature fluctuation.
The museum inside is a mixed bag of boring exhibits, some “futuristic” elements and is rather eclectic for the price, which is rather expensive. Kids under 8 would probably not miss the place at all, while most adults would find it a bit meh. Still, it’s worth going, if only for the building.
As Qatar World Cup was in full swing, we had a lot of fun watching a game right in front of the Museum with food and drinks in a Fan Zone. Expensive, but with the Museum in the background, this was an experience of a lifetime.
PS. Switzerland won the match over Cameroon 2-0.
Visited Nov 2022
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