Museum of Tomorrow: a captivating invitation to imagine a sustainable world

  • 2016-01-14
  • The Guardian

The Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow), which opens Thursday, must already rank as one of the world’s most extraordinary buildings. But once the public starts to visit this weekend, it may soon also become known for one of the planet’s most powerful arguments for sustainability.

Mixing science and art, the 230m reais (£40m/$59m) institution devotes itself to a topic that is divisive and often depressing: the need for change if mankind is to avoid climate disaster, environmental degradation and social collapse.

For Mayor Eduardo Paes – who will inaugurate the building at a ceremony with President Dilma Rousseff – the museum is the most striking example yet of the regeneration and gentrification of Rio’s port district.

Ten years ago this was one of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas. Today it is in the midst of a vast redevelopment that should make it one of the most desirable areas in Rio. The overhead expressway – the Perimetral – has been demolished, new plazas have opened up, the poor have been driven out and the wealthy corporate residents, including Trump Tower developers, are being invited in.

To attract them, a new Museum of Art was completed here two years ago. It is impressive, but the Museum of Tomorrow is on another scale altogether.

The structure – which was supposed to have opened before last year’s World Cup – looks set to be one of Rio’s most famous tourist sights. With solar spines that bristle above and a fan-like skylight below, it is designed to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Catalan architect Santiago Calatrava says he was inspired by the bromeliads in Rio’s Botanical Gardens. Inside, however, the whitewashed curves are more reminiscent of the 1960s concrete modernism of Oscar Niemeyer.

Funded by the Rio city government with support from sponsors, the building attempts to set new standards of sustainability in the municipality. Compared with conventional buildings, designers say it uses 40% less energy (including the 9% of its power it derives from the sun), and the cooling system taps deep water from nearby Guanabara Bay.