KT Exclusive: How Dubai carved out Museum of the Future on UAE’s busiest highway

In its first week, Museum of the Future attracted hundreds of visitors



Museum of the Future. Photo: Shihab
Museum of the Future. Photo: Shihab
by

Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Tue 1 Mar 2022, 1:23 PM

Last updated: Tue 1 Mar 2022, 10:08 PM

When the Museum of the Future was just a drawing on paper, many questioned the idea of having the landmark bang in the middle of Sheikh Zayed Road.

But then, Dubai has never been known to shy away from dreaming big, and today as the beautiful structure stands like a new bride on the busy highway, it sends out the of-heard message that in Dubai nothing is impossible.

“At the beginning, people challenged our decision to build a museum on the highway, arguing that attractions usually have their own space. However, like many challenges in Dubai, leaders continue making big strikes,” said Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), in an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times a week after the landmark's historic opening.

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation (DFF)
Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation (DFF)

He noted that Dubai World Trade Center, the emirate's epicenter for business and investment, emerged in 1979 in the middle of the desert before it transforms into the bustling skyline of Sheikh Zayed Road.

Similarly, the Museum of the Future is strategically located at the heart of a cosmopolitan centre adjacent to the iconic Emirates Towers and Dubai International Financial Center, with two bridges connecting the architectural marvel to Emirates Towers and the metro station.

“The idea was to increase footfall and link the museum to nearby strategic hubs and connection ports to fulfill the main mission of encouraging future-relevant dialogues and decisions,” said Belhoul.

The vision has, so far, proven successful. The museum, which serves as the latest addition to skyline's collection of striking architecture, has attracted hundreds of visitors on the first week since its opening, with sold out tickets until March 9.

“The museum lobby has been busy with visitors who are enjoying the experience.”

Belhoul added that the landmark also "gave a stunning view to Sheikh Zayed Road, especially when it glimmers at night and gives a new perspective."

Besides its stunning architecture that won global acclaim, the museum’s prime location signals that the future foresight is at the center of Dubai’s vision.

Beyond overcoming challenges facing humanity, Belhouol noted that the museum aims to institutionalize future foresight in the UAE - a vision which started with the museum’s concept at the World Government Summit in 2015.

Covid-19 delay

Photo: Shihab
Photo: Shihab

The Museum of the Future, as well as other major projects in Dubai, came to a halt during the Covid-19 outbreak. However, Belhoul called the delay “a blessing in disguise” as it comes towards the end of Expo 2020 Dubai, signaling the emirate's continuing journey to the future.

“The story of Expo 2020 and the museum are synergetic. As curtains fall down on Expo 2020, which has caught the eyes of the world with its futuristic opportunities, the museum comes to take this story forward,” noted Belhoul.

As the iconic structure rose quietly on the busy highway, Belhoul said he anxiously watched the installation of each of the 1,024 stainless steel panels on the pillarless torus-shaped exterior facade - a process that took 18 months.

“I used to count every facade piece from my office window in Emirates Towers every single day, and before that, the steel structure that had no single column,” noted Belhoul.

Dubai's Museum of the Future
Dubai's Museum of the Future

The structure gleamed in completion for the first time in early October 2020 when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, witnessed the installation of the last piece after signing it, along with the rest of the DFF team.

“That was the moment we finally saw the museum come to reality. We did not feel the construction noise, but we felt every move of every crane and every facade piece. It was a proud moment,” said Belhoul.

On the architectural aspect, the landmark achieved several first-of-its-kind feats including the manufacturing of the 1,024 multi-layered panels using robots and emerging as the first building in the world with a surface entirely covered in calligraphy art.

Futuristic immersive experience

Belhoul said that one of the biggest challenges in the museum's journey lied in its interiors. Unlike traditional museums that focus on the past, the architectural marvel is about the future.

“In conventional museums, displays and content get their value with time because the older they get, the more appealing they are. The Museum of the Future is the opposite: the less future relevant it is, the less appealing it becomes to visitors,” said Belhoul.

A team of 70 experts, creatives and programmers are the brains behind the technologies that power the museum's content with virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and machine-human interactions.

“Creative directors are leading teams who are ensuring that the content presented remains future relevant. With the rapid technology advancement, we need to constantly change the displays, which requires logistical intelligence and financial sustainability,” noted Belhoul.

Museum of the Future entrance. Photo: M. Sajjad
Museum of the Future entrance. Photo: M. Sajjad

The top three floors - Orbital Space Station (OSS Hope), the Heal Institute and Al Waha (Oasis) - offer an immersive journey into the far future, while the second floor - named Tomorrow Today - displays an array of currently available technology products shaping the future including robotics, drones and self-driving cars.

Each spectrum of talents took on different roles. “For every floor, there were experts involved, some of whom built the technology-equipped screens, and others who built the elevators, which form an essential part of the museum’s futuristic ride,” explained Belhoul.

Dubai Museum of the Future
Dubai Museum of the Future

People’s journey start in a spaceship-designed elevator that takes them to OSS Hope. “A large number of partners worked on the space station itself and the Amazon Rainforest in the Heal Institute.”

Several government partners supplied the Tomorrow Today exhibition with near-future products including Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority that displayed driverless Audis and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) with its drones and robotics.

While the immersive floors will stay longer, the Tomorrow Today exhibition will see regular changes as technologies become less future-relevant. “Visitors can expect to see faster changes on the second floor, but we envision that the immersive experiences of the top three floors will remain for longer periods under tight management to assess the demand and quality and ensure their future relevance,” said Belhoul.

Human-centric journey

The museum’s edutainment experience sends the powerful message that people are the major shapers the future.

By taking visitors to 2071, the trip to each floor is centred at inspiring people to explore ways to leverage the constant technology advancement to safeguard the planet 49 years from now.

The museum’s core message lies on the second floor - Al Waha (the Oasis) - a spa-like experience that encourages people to disconnect from technology and re-immerse into their inner self, spirit, and mind.

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“Through the museum, we aim to remind people that despite the increasing rise of technology, the human being will remain the centre of the past, the focal point of the present, and the shaper of the future,” noted Belhoul.

Dubai Museum of the Future. Photo: M. Sajjad
Dubai Museum of the Future. Photo: M. Sajjad

He added, “By promoting wellbeing, we are essentially telling people that our wellness, unity, and interaction with one other are the most efficient way to embrace the advancement of technology. We need to ensure our engine as human beings is working in the best way."

Belhoul stressed that technologies used in the museum are relevant to projects currently being tackled by scientists in space, climate change and food security.

OSS Hope inspires visitors to utilize the accessibility to space to avail solar energy from panels installed on the moon to power earth, while the DNA sampling of species in the Heal Institute shows how people can leverage the advancement of the health sector to preserve earth species and restore the planet.

The trip to 2071 through space and the Amazon rainforest, Belhoul noted, aims to spark curiosity for knowledge among youth and talented individuals.

The stunning imagery and visuals at no point scare people from a “dark future” or a “possible invasion of robotics”, said Belhoul. On the contrary, they inspire visitors to use them for their own benefit, while focusing on their wellbeing and unity with their families and friends.

sherouk@khaleejtimes.com


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