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White Elephant or the future of the museum?

Alongside the much-delayed sports infrastructure build-up to this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio, the host city opened an unusual hybrid venue last month to its sceptical taxpayers.

Boldy dubbed the Museum of Tomorrow, the facility is a Santiago Calatrava-designed gathering place devoted to… wait for it… “exploring the possibilities of a sustainable future through interactive artefacts that bring science, art, technology and culture together.”


It’s very pretty – striking, in fact. Apparently inspired by bromeliads in Rio’s Botanical GardensBold, its dynamic architecture is an effort to revive a rundown area of the city. The official press release says: “It is widely considered that the Rio 2016 Games acted as a catalyst to attract investment and get the project off the drawing boards”.

The museum says that “it seeks to analyse the past and present, in turn exploring possible scenarios for the future, with content that is presented in sensorial, interactive forms. Its main area is divided into five sectors, each one tackling one of the five questions that guide the museum: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going? How do we want to get there?”

Now call me a sceptic too, but if I was the General Manager of this “experimental museum” and given the above Mission Statement I’d be struggling perhaps with the programming. First I’d need to find some ‘interactive artefacts’, then put the narrative to link them and then I’d try and get visitors in by promising that they would enjoy exploring “the possibilities of a sustainable future”. Or I could just say – stuff it, anything goes!


Either this venue is a sop to the IOC’s demands for a Sustainable Agenda or it’s the future of the hybrid venue – but I’d like to see how it fairs in a few years.

The official line is that “this is the future symbol of the Host City”. It ain’t no Sydney Opera House and I’m certain it will not replace Copacabana beach, skimpy bikinis, Sugarloaf or Cristo Redentor – the Art Deco sculptural masterpiece – atop Corcovado – as the city’s most emphatic symbols.

Meanwhile, as Brazil’s economy nosedives, its leaders get carted off on embezzlement and fraud charges and the Olympic tourists arrive, surely the locals must be asking: “Are we being hoodwinked or are we getting value for money here?”

– Ian

PS. My favourite new museum of recent years is the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. Stunning architecture, great fun (complete with lifelike replicas of our ancestors in the lobby) and a clear purpose – exploring the very roots of humanity. Indeed, it answers very succinctly Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow’s first question: Where do we come from? And, unlike Rio, it is a lot clearer about where we are going.