What is the future of the museum?

As this year’s International Museum Day provokes discussion around the future of tradition, we look at Buro Happold projects past and present to understand the changing role of museums in society, and the ways in which we are striving to engineer museums of the future

Why are museums important to society? How can museums stay relevant? What do modern visitors want from a museum? What is the future of the museum? What will museums look like in the future?

Having worked on some of the most prestigious and ambitious museum projects in the world, these are questions that Buro Happold has addressed over and over again. While we don’t claim to have definitive answers for all of them, we do believe that the success of museums – past, present and future – lies not only in preserving ancient artefacts for the education of the next generation, but also in accepting social responsibility, promoting cultural harmony, and protecting the future of our planet.

We also believe that it is our role as engineers to embrace these core values within each of our projects. That’s why, whether we are refurbishing a hallowed institution such as Natural History Museum, defying the laws of gravity on projects like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, or realising contemporary cultural icons such as Yinchuan Art Museum, we strive to deliver world class museums that set a new standard for the future.

Cutty Sark Conservation, London, UK
Preserving the past for the future

cutty sark restoration
Restoring England’s only Grade I listed ship to her former glory, and securing her future as one of London’s leading visitor attractions. Image: Jim Stephenson

Our role on this project embodies that of museums the world over, as we were tasked with preserving the past for the future. The Cutty Sark – the only surviving example of a 19th century tea clipper – was ravaged by fire in May 2007, and our engineers undertook the painstaking repair and reconstruction of the historic vessel. We then elevated all 993 tonnes of this maritime matriarch above her dry dock, making way for the transformation of the space below into a state-of-the-art museum and visitor centre. At street level, the glass roof of the museum swells up through the pavement like a wave, while her hull breaks through to the museum below in a beautiful design that allows this majestic vessel to sail among us once again.

Louvre, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Engineering a modern masterpiece

Louvre Abu Dhabi
Image: Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji

Louvre Abu Dhabi is a museum on the precipice of many worlds. It bridges land and sea to create a place where people and nature interact, it brings together the cultures of East and West to forge new dialogue and understanding, and it establishes a global centre of culture in the Arab world. We used big data and new technologies to deliver a world class venue that reimagines the museum experience for a modern audience. From realising a 180m wide, 7,500 tonne perforated dome that illuminates the galleries below with a ‘rain of light’, to designing passive ventilation strategies in a desert environment, the Buro Happold team engineered a modern masterpiece with the inbuilt flexibility to fulfil the changing expectations of generations to come.

Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland
Balancing form, function and the visitor experience

Carefully planned ground works using 3D analysis reduced the impact on the underground metro station located directly beneath the development. Image: Thomas Phifer and Partners

The white concrete Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and accompanying black-clad TR Warszawa Theatre (TRW) create a visual yin and yang in the heart of the city’s new cultural district. As structural and building services engineers on this project, Buro Happold is responsible for realising both the aesthetic exterior harmony of the two buildings, and a perfect balance of form, function and visitor experience within. We have devised streamlined building services for MOMA than ensure conditions are conducive to visitor comfort and the preservation of priceless artwork, while TRW boasts outstanding acoustics and noise isolation between performance and recording spaces. As a result, this contemporary complex is set to open a new chapter in the rich cultural heritage of Warsaw.

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, LA, USA
A seismic shift in structural design

Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will bring the magic of the silver screen to life for visitors. In our role as structural engineers, Buro Happold is working across the renovation of the historic Saban Building and the realisation of a glittering new 1,000 seat theatre, ensuring both structures can withstand the seismic activity of the region. We strengthened the Saban Building’s original steel and concrete structure to meet requirements for Class A museum space, and devised an innovative base isolation system for the orb-shaped theatre that will allow it to move up to 30 inches in any direction during an earthquake. That means visitors can enjoy all the drama of the movies completely risk free.

Museum of the Future, Dubai, UAE
Reimagining the museum concept

We have harnessed the very latest technology to engineer not just a museum for the future, but the Museum of the Future. A synthesis of advanced technology and human creativity, this project reimagines the museum concept in both form and function. Instead of serving as a passive repository for ancient artefacts, the Museum of the Future is an active incubator of ideas, a catalyst for innovation, and a destination to inspire the history makers of tomorrow. From conception to completion, the Museum of the Future showcases how real and virtual worlds can combine to create something entirely new – and offers a tantalising possibility for the future role of museums in our society.

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