Dubai just added another feather to its cap with the Museum of Future. Designed by architect Shaun Killa of Killa Design, the structure is a visual marvel and has pushed the boundaries of architecture and engineering with its stainless-steel façade, calligraphy panels, and pillar-less structure. In conversation with us, Shaun Killa talks about his favourite part of the building and spills the tea on the idea, algorithms, and challenges that gave rise to the ‘world’s most beautiful building’. By Srushti Kulkarni
T+L India: When you were first approached with the proposal to build the Museum of Future, what were your initial ideas for the building?
Shaun Killa: We had to compete with 20 international participants to win the opportunity to build the Museum of Future. We were given about six weeks to come up with a proposal and that’s how we landed the project. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed requested a museum that represents Dubai’s vision in terms of the future. And to build the same, I chose the site behind Emirates Towers because it knit the museum into the context of the city. Placed before the metro line and Sheikh Zayed Road, the museum is intended to be made visible to not only those living in Dubai but also those visiting the city. Most museums around the world are flat two-storey buildings that consume a huge chunk of land hence, I designed a vertical museum with an unusual architecture and futuristic elements.
T+L India: What sparked the idea of engraving ancient Arabic calligraphy on the building and the reason behind opting the quotes of his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum?
Shaun Killa: I wanted to contextualise the museum not only in Dubai but even in the region. Therefore, I curated the windows of the museum to appear like ancient Arabic calligraphy on the outside. Further, delving into the concept I requested his Highness’s thoughts on the future and engraved three quotes of his rendered in the calligraphy of Mattar bin Lahej on the facade of the building.
T+L India: What were the major challenges in designing a structure of this kind?
Shaun Killa: We faced three major challenges while constructing the museum. One was to optimise the number of nodes because they are very expensive and each node is one of a kind. Only when these nodes were placed together could we attain the doughnut shape. We used parametric growth algorithms and advanced 3D modelling software to optimise the number of nodes to be used.
The second was the façade. To place an organic art form on a parametrically developed shape was quite a herculean task. Software at the time was incapable of performing this task and it took us 4-5 months to ideate the usage of a movie software to wrap the text on the surface. When we succeeded in doing so, we transferred the design back to our software which then allowed us to play around with the text at ease.
Third, we had to ensure that the nodes did not intercept with the windows because then they would be visible through the inscriptions.
T+L India: We heard that every part of this concrete structure represents something futuristic, can you give us a peek inside the museum?
Shaun Killa: The beautiful spherical museum is the epitome of mankind’s vision of today in terms of future technology and humanity. It is like a vessel that signifies the visionary leadership of Dubai that shall continue to be passed on like a baton through the ages. The void is the most powerful point of the entire museum that represents the unknown. It is believed that people who seek the unknown through different walks of life become inventors and discoverers and ultimately, these discoveries shall continue to replenish the Museum of Future. The green mound the museum sits atop symbolises earth.
Situated across five levels of the seven-storey building, the exhibitions include an immersive digital rainforest ecosystem, a display of humanity’s home in space, and a demonstration of 50 prototypes and current products focussing on five areas, including environment, food security, waste management, agriculture and irrigation, and city planning.
T+L India: The Museum of Future is built on a sustainable architecture strategy. Besides the solar panels, what are the other sustainability features in the building?
Shaun Killa: The museum of future is a LEED platinum building. It contains incredible infrastructure with an ability to adapt. The renewable energy extracted from the solar panels generate a sizeable amount of power required by the museum. The building is also WELL accredited which means the air and the lighting within the building is of pure quality and well concentrated to make the visitors feel comfortable.
T+L India: The museum is being listed as one of the most complicated buildings because of its column-less shell structure. How many years were spent in the making?
Shaun Killa: Only a petite part of the museum’s structure touches the podium below. There is a big concrete ring beam passing through the core such as elevators and the fire escapes while the rest of the building is column-less. The floors of the building are cantilevering an eggshell, similarly, the structure of the building is based entirely on the skin. When under construction, it appeared like a steel diagrid and that’s how we achieved the inverted spherical shape called a torus. We spent one and half years designing the structure and another five years building the Museum of Future.
T+L India: It is said that every structure of the building was digitally measured by the millimetre and to do so, several kinds of technologies were put to use. Can you let us in on a few of them?
Shaun Killa: The construction technology has been heavily criticised because it’s one of the slowest to make the change. While coming up with the design and materials to be used in the making of this building we looked at the latest technologies in a way that we could afford it. We used CNC machines (Computer Numerical Control), we reached out to the aviation industry to understand how they bond stainless steel to modern materials, and we also used robotic arms to cut out the panels mounted as the shell of the building.
T+L India: People say that they don’t get to see much greenery in Dubai but the mound lifting the museum appears like a hill. Was it a conscious decision?
Shaun Killa: I did not want the museum to be overshadowed by the metro line which sits 12 meters above the ground. Therefore, I used all of 2,000 square meters which includes the car parking, lobby, auditoriums, restaurants and placed them beneath a big green hill. The building opened new paths away from the sky-scraping towers that appeared as though the earth had uplifted the museum in par with the metro line. I tried replacing the greenery on this hill that I took away while placing the hill. So, yes it was a conscious design to lay a green landscape signifying earth.
T+L India: Your favourite part of the building and a part you think will become a visitor’s hotspot?
Shaun Killa: There are several! It is pretty inspiring to be upon the glass deck set in the void of the building. The second one will be to walk around the landscape and get a closer look at the building amid lush greenery.
T+L India: Architects and masterpieces around the world that inspire you?
Shaun Killa: I reserve great admiration for Burj Khalifa and all the technologies that it holds. I draw inspiration from architects who are on an endless quest to build something exceptional.
T+L India: Which destinations around the world do you love for their architecture?
Shaun Killa: I love all the places in Europe, especially Venice and Rome for their antique architecture. Wonderful new places are coming up in China and New York that I am looking forward to.
T+L India: What other projects are in the pipeline for you?
Shaun Killa: We are currently invested in the development of Marsa Al Arab which is a luxurious resort off the coast of Dubai and in India, we are constructing the Namaste W hotel in the city of dreams [Mumbai].