Dubai's Museum of the Future

The Museum of the Future is both an advanced smart building and a showcase of the technologies which will change life in Dubai in the future

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation.
ITP Images
Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation.

Dubai may be a city of superlative structures, but a new building coming up in the city looks set to be more than just another iconic landmark on the skyline, and instead to become a showcase of the Emirate’s technology achievements and future ambitions.

The Museum of the Future, situated on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s main highway, has been attracting attention as its unique hoop-shaped silhouette has emerged, first in the form of its polyhedral steel skeleton, and more recently as its smooth outer façade has been added. Although the building incorporates state of the art engineering and sustainability practices in its construction and operations, the Museum of the Future is intended to go far beyond just being an advanced structure, to become an integral part of Dubai’s development drive and smart city programs.

The museum is part of the Dubai Future Foundation, which was established by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to lead many of the emirate’s programs to investigate new strategies and technologies for development, and to bring them to fruition. Due for completion in 2020, the Museum will become the most visible part of the Future Foundation’s ecosystem of initiatives.

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation said that the idea for a ‘museum of the future’ came from the World Government Summit (WGS), Dubai’s annual gathering of government leaders. WGS is an international conference that focuses on development issues. A team from the UAE Prime Minister’s Office decided to host an exhibit at the event which would showcase how Dubai is looking at tackling global development challenges.

The exhibit, the first Museum of the Future, was housed in a structure outside of the main conference hall, and affectionately referred to as the ‘small white box’. The temporary museum included visualisations of future solutions to development challenges, and acted as a venue for presentations and discussions around the issues for the high-level attendees.

“The small white box is what triggered whole Dubai Future Foundation and Dubai Museum story,” Belhoul said. “The exhibits on global future challenges, and the level of discussions that happened within that exhibit, led His Highness to decide that we needed to showcase to the world how Dubai foresees the future.”

“The story was much bigger than just a small white box, so we decided, let’s do it in a much more iconic, and beautiful way, and create an experience for our guests to Dubai to show them what to expect in the future.”

The Museum will be an immersive experience taking visitors on a journey through future technologies and their applications.

Since its launch, the Dubai Future Foundation has launched a wide range of initiatives that are intended to discover future technologies and talents, and to incubate them in Dubai for the benefit of all humanity. The projects include Dubai 10X, an initiative to encourage Dubai government entities to embrace disruption and to put the city ten years ahead of other cities; Dubai Future Accelerators, a nine-week innovation program that partners startups directly with government entities to address specific challenges; One Million Arab Coders, that aims to bring free software development training to increase technical capacity in the Arab World; and AREA 2071, which is driving plans to make the UAE the world’s leading nation by its centennial in 2071.

The Dubai Future Foundation also oversees the Dubai Future Academy, which is intended to deliver education and thought leadership for future generations of leaders, along with a number of other programs to promote research and scientific achievement in the country. The Museum of the Future will become the showcase for these initiatives, as well as a forum to educate visitors and create discussion and feedback.

“When it comes to the future, you need to be very aggressive with your research,” Belhoul said. “We have our research vertical, we have a content dissemination vertical, which reflects whatever research we have; then we have our education platform, then our acceleration vertical, all the way to our showcase — which is the Museum of the Future.

“Without unveiling what is going to be in the Museum, the idea is that it is an immersive experience taking our guests through different levels, experiencing the future. It takes you from one level to another, it will cater to children with a children’s area, and at the same time there will be experiences that are very informative for adults, to see the top priority global challenges that humanity needs to pay attention to, and to get people ready for what comes next.”

While the actual exhibits and themes for the museum are still under wraps, Belhoul said that the facility will include exhibits and immersive experiences, as well as facilities such as a theatre for presentations and discussions.

One challenge will be ensuring that the content can be refreshed frequently, to make sure that it stays relevant and future-focused. This will mean a strong reliance on technology to present the exhibits and experiences, and ensure that they can be updated without too much disruption or capital expenditure for the museum.

“It is an interesting, but challenging component of having a vision of the future,” he said. “In a typical museum, its exhibits are based on the past, and the exhibits tend to appreciate in value with time. As an operator or museum owner, you focus less on content change, and more on content management and preservation.

“With the Museum of the Future it is the other way around. The moment that what you are showing is out in the market, it is no longer futuristic, and people will no longer come to you.”

At present, Belhoul said that the museum expects to change the exhibits every six months. A steering committee from the Dubai Future Foundation will help set the initial plan for content, but in future, the museum aims to establish a creative committee, drawing on the Foundation’s global network of creatives, artists, technologists and other experts, who will be able to offer their ideas.

The aim for the museum going forward is to showcase the end products of the Future Foundation’s programs, but also to create two-way conversations around the future challenges.

“I think the Museum of the Future will act as a landing point for different creative people, scientists, innovators, who will come to visit the museum, for leisure purposes, and there is nothing better than creating a collaborative space, a meeting space for people to discuss things on a casual basis.

“The quality of the people that visit the Museum, and the quality of discussions that come out of the museum, will come back as value to the Future Foundation — this is clearly what has happened from the World Government Summit, with the discussions in the white box leading to the creation of the Dubai Future Foundation, so I think that will happen on a much bigger scale with the Museum of the Future,” he added.

“We will have valuable discussions, with kids, innovators, decision makers, politicians, government leaders, all of them will collide in that space and come up with global future decisions.”

A new Dubai icon

The construction of the Museum of the Future is one of the most advanced and ambitious designs in a city full of visually-striking buildings. Located adjacent to the Emirates Towers hotel and business complex, which is home to the Dubai Future Foundation, the Museum has gradually been taking shape — with its central location and unique look getting a lot of attention from residents and visitors to Dubai.

Khalfan Belhoul commented: “The value and momentum that we have from the building is definitely worth it. It actually puts a lot of pressure on us, because every time someone passes by they tell us how beautiful the building looks — which puts pressure on us because we want to meet their expectations with what is inside the building.”

The building was designed by Dubai-based architecture practice Killa Design, while Dutch firm Bam International is the main contractor.

The final structure will be a ‘torus’, a vertically aligned loop with a hole in the centre. The landscaping around the building represents the earth, the round shape represents the humanity, while the empty space represents innovation and the unknown.

The complicated construction utilises the latest building information modelling (BIM) and 3D modelling solutions to realise the geometric skeleton required for such a shape. The frame of the building is created from steel, arranged in triangular forms, which has gone up first, and already become something of a landmark in its own right.

The construction of the Museum uses advanced techniques and methods, says Belhoul.

The façade of the building, which is being installed at present, is made up of 1024 shaped stainless steel and fibreglass panels, which will form a seamless, curved, reflective outer shell. Cut into these façade panels are the windows, which spell out some of the aphorisms of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed. The building will include a free-standing double-helix staircase in the main entry. Other elements of the building will be created using 3D printing.

“It is a very innovative steel structure, and the panelling is done in an extremely innovative way, moulded using technologies, with only one or two providers in the region that could provide such curved panels — it was quite challenging,” Belhoul added.

Maintaining the high quality of the exterior surfaces will be another challenge, and the Dubai Future Foundation is already exploring the use of technology and robotics in cleaning it.

The building is not just intended to be visually striking, Belhoul commented, but to perform to high levels of energy efficiency. The Museum is set to achieve the LEED Platinum standard, and the Future Foundation recently announced a partnership with Dubai’s utility company, DEWA, to develop a dedicated solar plant to serve the museum. The plant, which is being installed at Emirates Towers adjacent to the Museum, will produce 4,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy, equivalent to the Museum spending AED 1 million on oil fuel equivalent per year.

The solar provision, along with other aspects of the design and operation of the building, should mean that the museum ranks among the most sustainable museums in the world.

“We are excited that we are the first museum in the region to be LEED Platinum, and what I have also been told is that it is in the top 3% of museums with LEED platinum,” Belhoul said. “We are extremely proud of that, the partnership we have with DEWA really gives us a big push towards sustainability.”

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