One of the United Arab Emirate’s newest buildings may very likely become one of its most recognizable landmarks. Dubai already has the towering Burj Khalifa and the coral façade of Atlants, The Palms, and now, the Museum of the Future. Its ring shape and exterior covered in Arabic calligraphy makes the city even more of a must-see architectural destination.
“The goal was to create a building form that would be instantly recognizable, creating an icon and using the highest digital and technological tools to develop a building that represents the future,” explained Shaun Killa, Design Partner at Killa Design, the firm behind the design and architecture. “The primary inspiration was to create a form that represents the UAE Prime Minister’s vision of the future where the physical building embodies floors with exhibitions that represent our understanding of the ‘future’ as we know it today, and possibly for the next few years. In contrast, the void represents the ‘unknown’ of the future, and people who seek the unknown, innovate, and discover new horizons and ideas that help guide humanity towards a better future.”
The project that became the Museum of the Future began near the end of 2014. Killa was invited, along with more than 20 other architectural firms from around the world, to participate in a competition to design the building. A few weeks into the competition, he still didn’t feel like he’d landed on a design that aligned with what the Prime Minister of Dubai envisioned. Once he had only three weeks before his proposal deadline, Shaun sat down and tried to picture something that had a more progressive feel to it.
“After many sketches late that evening, I drew the first sketch of the Museum of the Future, which described its landscape podium, the torus museum, the Arabic calligraphy, the museum section, as well as its planning,” Killa said. “The following morning, I sketched further details of the building for the 3D massing to evolve. After numerous reiterations and markups of the renderings, plans, and sections, the final boards were submitted to the Prime Minister’s office. After two months I received a call to present the Museum of the Future at the Prime Minister’s office, to his Excellency Gergawi and all the ministers, after which I was told that the design had won, and the following morning would be the initiation of the project.”
It took over a year to perfect the design alone, and the team worked to ensure the building process happened as efficiently as possible. As Killa Design worked, they fine tuned the algorithms to keep the interior and exterior relationship consistent with the floors, structural skin, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. From concept to construction, Building Information Modeling played an integral role: they used BIM to create all drawings, Virtual Reality clash detection, and for on-site real-time building sequence and deflection tolerances.
“During early design phases, the team used complex 3D modeling software, such as Maya and Rhino,” Killa explained. “They used it to set the calligraphy onto the building’s surface, move each letter to adhere to the ancient rules of calligraphy, and avoid over one thousand steel diagrid nodes to ensure none were placed in the center of the windows. The project was tendered and awarded to the main contractor, who then took five years to build the project. We supervised the museum with particular focus on the steel diagrid system and the stainless-steel façade system.”
The installation process lasted more than a year and a half and stood out to Killa as one of the most challenging parts of creating the Museum of the Future. The exterior features over a thousand panels that cover 17,600 square meters, and high tech procedures were required to put them all together. They utilized aviation software construction technology and automated robotic arms that went through a sixteen-step process to produce the panels, with each one containing four separate layers. Thankfully, the precision has resulted in a truly striking structure that lines right up with the museum’s mission.
“Here, technology and creativity are in total harmony, giving us a glimpse of real and virtual worlds combining to create something entirely new,” Killa said. “The Museum of the Future has been one of the most stimulating projects I’ve designed, as it is a highly public cultural building, hyper unique in its form, and technically complex in its execution.”
For instance, the building’s exact number of panels pay homage to digital technology by referencing the kilobyte, a basic unit of storage for computers that consists of 1,024 bytes. Killa Design further emphasized the museum’s focus on technological innovation with a sustainable, structural surface powered with 4,000 megawatts of solar energy. Purposeful quotes on the future from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed add an especially compelling look to the exterior of this oblong, metallic structure.
Although the museum looks stunning, their focus isn’t solely on displaying beautiful artifacts in simple white spaces; instead, it intends to become a center for creativity and hope that combines exhibits, immersive theater, and interactive attractions. Its programming and events will answer the not-so-simple questions of what life will look like in the years, decades, and centuries to come, with a physical form that’s sure to inspire just as many possibilities.