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Touted as “an icon for a new age,” Dubai’s new Museum of the Future is a marvel of structural engineering and architectural design. Its elliptical form, monumental size, and striking calligraphy-covered façade stand out against the more anonymous backdrop of the city’s motor freeways and urban highrises. Inside, there are no collections of objects on display. Rather, the museum boasts five floors of interactive exhibition spaces where visitors are encouraged to “see, touch and shape our shared future.” Two SEGD member firms—Jason Bruges Studio (London) and Atelier Brückner (Stuttgart and Seoul)—took on the challenge of interpreting and presenting the “future” by designing two very different experiences for two different audiences.
An Environment for Healing
Jason Bruges Studio
In a world of touchscreens, the metaverse and augmented reality there is a need to reconnect with our bodies and with each other.
The Centre, created by Jason Bruges Studio for the Museum of the Future in Dubai, is an inhabitable media artwork that uses water, light, vibration and sound to reawaken the senses. An antidote to an ever more digitally saturated reality, the installation offers an immediate, visceral experience inspired by historic ritual. For millennia, humans have sought unique ways to physically heal and spiritually recenter. Wide-ranging socio-cultural practices from Victorian spa therapies to Tibetan gong baths use water and vibration for restorative purposes. Historically, people gathered by water for survival and habitually still do. In city centers you’ll often see office workers gathering by water fountains with their sandwiches at lunchtime.
Inspired by these traditions, The Centre is a healing environment for future generations. Within the space, an elevated, celestial “well” holds a shallow layer of water. As highly controlled oscillations act upon the liquid, an immersive soundscape envelops the room. Light cast through the central lens projects animated caustics into a vast architectural dome bathing visitors beneath in delicate, liquid light. Ever evolving, the light and soundscape uses a tightly honed palette of effects inspired by the water cycle. Water coalesces to form clouds, falls as rain, flows as meandering streams and rejoins the ocean.
Suspended from place and time, The Centre encourages a moment of stillness. It asks, if by recentering and looking inwards, can we be more open and personally connected to those around us.
To vibrate the water, eight transducers are placed around the circumference of the “lens.” These transducers are essentially “actuators” or the vibrating output devices connected to amplifiers. To control the water and achieve the desired effects, it was necessary to find very specialized amplifiers that deal with especially low frequencies. The transducers used in The Centre are more commonly found in 4-D cinemas, theme parks, or venues with vibrating acoustic floors.
Daniel Sonabend designed The Centre’s soundscape which uses a limited instrumental palette: female and male voices (performed in various singing traditions), rebab, waterphone, violin and viola textures (played in contemporary extended techniques), Tibetan bowls and a bit of found sounds.
The inspiration for the music included the different spiritual, mystical and religious traditions that people use around the world to achieve self-transcendence. The palette signifies these various practices with instruments such as rebab (used in the Sufi tradition of whirling dervishes) and Tibetan bowls (used in Buddhist meditation). The main instrument used throughout is the human voice. The Centre also incorporates an inharmonic instrument called a waterphone, which contains a small amount of water in its resonator body to help create its ethereal sound. The music does not include any field recordings of water, but instead uses extended playing techniques on the violin and viola to create textures that resemble water sounds and combined with a few recordings from the installation prototype.
Since the water animation includes frequencies that are not in the audible human hearing range, Daniel, the sound designer, used low frequency oscillators and time-based echoes to process the sounds in sync with the ripples. The number of voices in the music’s harmony correlates to the amount of transducers that are being used for the water.
An Exhibit for Children
For the Museum of the Future, Atelier Brückner designed "Future Heroes,” a 1200-square-meter exhibition space dedicated to visitors aged 10 years and under. Inside the "Journey of the Pioneers" exhibition, kids are invited to explore and develop their skills in an open-ended playful experience—and empowered to become Future Heroes. Upon arrival, they are greeted with the encouraging message: "The Future Needs You!”
As they begin their journey, a Future Trainer introduces kids to the training zone where they receive a Future Hero cape and an interactive wristband. Their goal: to collect badges during their training and work together, as a team, to complete special urgent missions. In the process, the children acquire skills that help them to become successful Future Heroes. At the end of their visit, the kids receive a souvenir set of all the badges they earned and collected during their Future Training to take home and share as memories with friends and family.
Three igloo-shaped labs are embedded in an undulating terrain, which also incorporates trampolines and two large climbers augmented by a magical soundscape. At the center of this landscape stands an abstracted tree with swinging pods extending from its branches. Its trunk hosts monitoring stations that allow the Future Heroes to check their badge collections and communicate with their avatars, who motivate them to participate in more challenges and activities. Light paths radiate outwards from the tree, leading to the three labs.
Let the urgent missions begin!
In the Build Lab, children are challenged to work together to build a life-sized habitat that can protect them from a meteorite shower using a modular building kit. When the timer runs out, a meteorite shower of balls drops onto the structure. Can it withstand the impact?
The Design Lab is a dark space where kids can paint light patterns on its walls using backlit rods, mirrors, and prisms. They test their STEM skills by playing with angles and colors. The children's mission is to direct enough light onto a solar engine to keep their spaceship flying!
Finally, the Imagination Lab tasks kids with exploring their senses (sight, hearing, touch, and smell). They discover an archive of sensory orbs themed with different categories such as "food and drink," "city life" and "the oceans". The children guess what is inside each orb and reveal (by means of RFID tagging) the contents by plugging them into the flower-like structures in the center of the space. The timed urgent mission in this lab encourages the kids to work as a team to complete themed sensory sets, such as a group of kids having two minutes to collect all the “ocean” themed orbs. If successful, the flowers start to “bloom” and animated mandala patterns are drawn on the floor. Kinetic foldable timber scales cover the Design Lab, soft blue balls clad the Imagine Lab, and an open geodesic structure connected with wooden spheres covers the Build Lab.
As general planner, Atelier Brückner was responsible for the design of “Future Heroes” and the overall concept, including its content and narration. The firm also designed two other permanent exhibitions for the Museum of the Future: "Journey of the Pioneers" and "Tomorrow Today" within the "Future Heroes" exhibition.
Partners and Design Firms of the Museum of the Future
L1 – Future Heroes:
- Atelier Brückner
- Belzner Holmes
- Medienprojekt p2
L2 – Tomorrow, Today:
- Gonzalo Herrero
- Harriet Seabourne
L3 – Al Waha:
- Atelier Brückner
- Emilie Baltz
- Jason Bruges
- Daniel Sonabend
L4 – Heal Institute:
- Atelier Brückner
- Galerija 12 Future Media studio
- Marshmallow Laser Feast
- Certain Measures
L5 – OSS Hope:
- Grand Central Recording Studios
- Galerija 12
- Near Future Laboratory
- DAVID DELGADO & DAN GOODS