(CNN) — When it finally opened in February 2022, the new Dubai Museum of the Future was already one of the city’s favorite buildings. And how could it not be so? For six years, residents and visitors have watched with curiosity every step of the construction process of this shimmering silver landmark on Dubai’s main highway, Sheikh Zayed Road.
The geometric skeleton really started to take shape when the calligraphy-covered metal plates were added. Once in place, a team of workers would rappel down the curved sides daily, drawing gazes and phone cameras, each wondering exactly what they were doing.
It’s another superlative for the city, and a piece of architecture that’s light years ahead of anything Dubai and the world has ever seen before.
The future we know, and the future we don’t yet know
Most museums display exhibits from the past or 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, and more,” says Shaun Killa, design partner of Killa Design, based in Dubai, the architecture studio behind the building. “But that’s the future as we understand it for maybe the next two to three years.”
The green mound on which the Museum of the Future stands represents the Earth, with the main building symbolizing humanity. But the void in the center represents what we don’t yet know about the future. In other words, the unknown.
“People who seek out the unknown are the ones who invent and discover things,” says Killa. “These people will constantly replenish the museum over time, so there’s a perpetual continuum because of the unknown. That’s why the void is there – you have our understanding of the future, and then you have something who is not there.”
It’s an existential thing.
This currently translates into a collection of interactive experiences that take visitors on a vision of the near future.
In the cavernous lobby, a penguin-shaped drone swims through the air to a futuristic soundtrack of beeps and bloops. An elevator, disguised as a spaceship with screens for the windows, propels visitors upward on a four-minute flight to the OSS Hope space station, 600 kilometers above earth and 50 years in the future .
There is a library of 4,500 animal DNA codes to “collect” on smart devices. The future tech realm has a “Black Mirror” twist, ranging from the frankly terrifying CyberDog to payment chips under the skin, virus-resistant clothing, and a falcon-shaped robot designed to control real bird populations.
The spectacular seven-story museum of the future “tries to make people feel like the future is theirs,” says its creative director.
But the real beauty is the space itself and the instantly recognizable shape of the museum. “It had to be futuristic and needed a sense of direction,” Killa explains. “If it had been a perfect oval, it would have been stagnant.” The toric shape and the off-centre void give a feeling of perpetual motion. “It feels like it’s constantly on the move. The future is always on the move, and you have to follow it.”
A window to the future
The Arabic calligraphy that covers the building serves as both windows and decoration. The screenplay, 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. is not something you expect, but rather create.”
The calligraphy, in the classic Thuluth Arabic script, was first sketched by hand by Bin Lahej, who describes the museum not as a building but as “a work of art”. But the torus proved tricky. “The challenge was how to blend the three quotes on the building when there are no corners, and it’s an oval that goes up and down,” he says.
It was also a challenge for Killa and his team. “It took us four and a half months to figure out how to take something flat and glue it onto a parametrically designed building, and it’s just swept arcs with no ‘surface,'” he says. Eventually, they decided to use movie-making software, “the kind you use when you have to put fur on a dinosaur,” according to Killa. The team tricked the software into cutting the building into pieces, pretending it was not a continuous surface by “removing” the roof.
‘What is that? I don’t understand.’
The final version of the Museum of the Future was selected from designs submitted in a six-week competition.
Three weeks later, with sketches covering his dining room table, Killa ran into a problem. “I looked at them and just thought they weren’t good enough. None of them. I didn’t think any of them matched Sheikh Mohammed’s vision, and I didn’t think not that any of them were good enough to win,” he said.
The next day, when he was already entering the fourth week of the competition, he was still not happy. “I put on some great music and sat there and absorbed it all. And then around 1 a.m. I drew the sketch which is now in a frame on the wall in our office. I drew it and thought that was it, that’s exactly what it should be, so I took a picture, sent it by whatsapp to the guy who was doing the 3d modeling, I thought my work was done now and fell asleep.
In the morning, he had a response on WhatsApp.
” What is that ? I don’t understand.
From aviation to underwater technology
It is one of the most remarkable new buildings in the United Arab Emirates.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
This sketch, once explained, reworked to scale and accurate to the millimeter, became one of the designs that ultimately won the competition.
The building is based on a diagrid structure with the skeleton forming the main support. Inside, the space is entirely devoid of columns. Killa wanted it to be state of the art in terms of construction.
On the surface of the building, the 1,024 panels, representing one kilobyte of data, were cut with computer numerical control (CNC) machines. And each of these panels is different.
“We went into the aviation industry to understand how they put stainless steel in the front of airplane wings and around engines, and bond it chemically and mechanically to carbon fiber,” Killa says. “That’s basically what we were doing.”
For the lobby’s spiral staircase, the tallest double-helix staircase in the world, they looked for inspiration underwater. “The contractor told us that it was impossible and that we had designed something too difficult to do. We said that we were sure there was someone who could do it because it was indeed a spring,” Killa explains. The answer? Find a submarine nose maker who had the technology and equipment to bend steel.
Was there a time when Killa thought it might not be possible to build what he had imagined?
“I knew it could be designed because it’s basically like an egg, and an egg is a very strong shape,” he says, adding that through the ages, starting with the pyramids of Giza and the Rome’s Pantheon, many of the world’s largest buildings were at the edge of the technology of their time.
And with all the groundbreaking technological advancements used by Killa to bring the building to life, the Museum of the Future brought to life the future of architecture in today’s Dubai.