December 18, 2015

by Andrea Margit

From the waters of the Guanabara Bay, in the harbor district of Rio de Janeiro, a new public space emerges to probe the future, the Museum of Tomorrow, which opens to the public this Saturday. As paradoxal as it might sound, the project embodies a new generation of science museums based on dynamic data and ideas rather than static relics.

Through immersive and interactive experiences, visitors are invited to examine five basic questions that mankind has always asked: who are we? where do we come from? where are we now? where are we headed to? and how do we want to get there?

Over the past five years, the venture has gathered top scientists in Brazil, such as Carlos Nobre, a world expert in climate change and lead author of the fourth IPCC Assessment Report that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; artists and film directors like Fernando Meirelles of ‘City of God’; and the acclaimed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava who was inspired by a native bromeliad to design the iconic building of the museum.

The main exhibit, created by Ralph Appelbaum, with artistic direction of Andres Clerici, is divided into five main areas, one for each of the museum’s guiding questions: the Cosmos, the Earth, the Anthropocene, Tomorrows, and Us, mixing art and science to reflect upon the age of acceleration and instability we are living in (see the BBC TV report for a glimpse of the exhibit).

The additional programs are designed for guests of all ages, including guided tours; workshops in the Activities of Tomorrow Lab; debates and events in the Observatory of Tomorrow; and temporary multimedia exhibits that feature tomorrow’s mega-trends and thinkers. During the opening, for instance, visitors will be taken into the implosion of the elevated highway Perimetral that previously separated the Pier Maua – where the museum currently stands – from the rest of the city. In a broader perspective, the temporary exhibit will discuss how to soften the edges within the city that separate functional activities, landscapes, social classes.

One of the premises of the museum was to be meaningful for teachers, students and the neighboring community. Therefore, prior to inauguration, the museum held training workshops for public school teachers to help them prepare pedagogical activities to best take advantage of the museum content. Additionally, the program embraces the vision of a unified city and “will fulfill the ethical duty to promote inclusion by staying closely connected to its social, cultural and environmental context” says Hugo Barreto, CEO of the Roberto Marinho Foundation, the institution that conceptualized the Museum of Tomorrow and managed its production. To ensure facilitate  access to the museum, admission will be free for teachers and students of public schools as well as for thirty thousand residents of the port district enrolled in the Neighbors Program.

Projects of this stature in Brazil always face various challenges: funds, public sympathy, qualified team, etc. – but most of these seem to be well resolved in the case of the Museum of Tomorrow. The hardest question that will come across is whether it will get to maintain itself ahead of its time, leading provocative debates always connected to the future.

The project is quite out-of-the box to rely on conventional recipes; it will have to create its own pathway. It is encouraging to see that the museum has adopted flexible content management and public interaction platforms that reflect the dynamic nature of these elements and, just like the narrative of the main exhibit, they mimic a river flow that is somehow unpredictable and lead to a range of new possibilities. Designers and artists, this is a museum that is worth keeping an eye on.