Museum of Tomorrow




Country: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

What did this project achieve?

Create a museum that challenges our sense of what it means to live on this planet

Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Tomorrow has been described by the Guardian newspaper as looking ‘like a cross between a solar-powered dinosaur and a giant air conditioning unit’. It also calls it ‘one of the world’s most extraordinary buildings.’

Sited by the waterside in a port area that had been abandoned for decades, the museum was part of Rio’s regeneration project for the 2016 summer Olympics. It’s now a popular tourist attraction for the city. The museum’s main exhibition focuses on ideas rather than objects. Displays in 200m long halls range from the origins of the planet to possible futures for humanity.


Exhibits show digital clips of burning forests, melting glaciers and dense traffic along with a real-time counter of births and deaths. The 2 storey building’s own structure is part of its argument for sustainability. The spines on its roof, for example, collect solar energy. The museum’s designers claim it uses 40% less energy than conventional buildings.

Difference the museum has made

The museum has contributed to the regeneration of what was one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Since it opened in 2015, the building has become an important tourist attraction, helping to boost the local economy and bringing money to the area.

The museum has also acted as an example of how public buildings can be sustainable as well as functional.

How the work was done

The museum claims to explore the relationship between the city and the natural environment.

As part of this ‘exploration’, the architects limited the total height of the building to 18m - this protects the view of Guanabara Bay from nearby Sao Bento monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The building has a cantilevered roof with large mobile ‘wings.’ The structure can expand almost to the length of the pier it’s built on. Its designers say this emphasises the museum’s ‘connection’ to the bay.

Engineers used natural light sources for the structure with big windows to let in the sun.

The museum’s cooling system is another example of its sustainability. It uses water from nearby Guanabara Bay to help regulate temperatures inside the building.

Energy comes from solar spines on the roof which help power the museum. The spines can be adjusted to the angle of the sun’s rays throughout the day.

The project team claims the museum takes 9% of its energy from the sun.


We hope people will come out feeling disturbed or inspired but not indifferent.

Alberto Oliveira

Curator, Museum of Tomorrow

Fascinating facts

There is only one physical object in the main exhibition hall – an ancient Australian aboriginal ‘tjurunga’ – a symbol of learning, fertility and the ability to cope with change.

Sensors adjust the lights and sounds in the hall according to the movement of visitors. This is meant as a reminder of how people affect the world around them.

Another exhibit in the building is a film that compresses 13.7bn years of geological change and natural evolution into 8 minutes.

A key part of the museum’s message is that the planet has entered the Anthropocene period – the ‘epoch of humans.’ The theory goes that humans have modified the Earth so much in the past 70 years there will be a permanent record in rock formations.

People who made it happen

  • Architect: Santiago Calatrava
  • Structural engineering consultants: Arup, Casagrande Engineering

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