Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation launches future-gazing report: Museums in the Digital Age

Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation has launched a report ‘Museums in the Digital Age’ which envisages a dynamic future for museums. Moving beyond static objects in glass cases, future museums will see personalised content, new levels of sustainability and visitor experience extended beyond present expectations of time and space.

The report recognises that museums now have to cater for increasingly disparate visitor groups from an aging population through to the Facebook generation, as well as an expanding global middle class which will give rise to a mass cultural boom. Through investigating the experiential requirements of each, the report suggests a number of changes to future museum design and investments including:

Immersive experiences: tablets and social media now meet basic expectations. Innovations such as contact-less technology, augmented reality and face-recognition software will become integral to capturing the imaginations of all visitor groups and to enhance the physical experience.

Innovations such as advancements in 3D printing will also enable the accurate reproduction of rare, damaged or previously unavailable objects and their exhibition in multiple locations. Additionally, visitors could even have the option of creating a copy of the artifact to take home.

Nomad museums: museums and the content they exhibit no longer need to be fixed to a certain point in space and time. Mobile museums, combined with digital access to collections, will reach a wider demographic, shifting the notion of where and how museums can exist in the future.

Sustainable and open spaces: museums will feature smart controls and sensors to manage water, heating and cooling systems more effectively. However beyond this, climate change will affect the design of museums and their contents, with a shift towards the preservation and archiving of threatened living elements alongside alternative food cultivation systems such as hydroponic farms.

Museums will also have a responsibility to place emphasis on visitor wellbeing and encourage green forms of mobility and environmentally friendly practices.

Future scenarios: museums as retreats, safe havens and political ambassadors

The report concludes with a number of future scenarios in the year 2040, envisioned by students on the Narrative Environments course at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London, who were mentored by the Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation team. Built on existing social and environmental trends, these provide drastic visions of the museum’s role in the future. One such scenario includes museums functioning as a temporary retreat from future ‘mega-cities’, with vegetation helping to regulate environmental toxins. In this future, Kew Gardens will have a dual role as a research centre and visitor attraction, becoming a driving force in the development of functional plants.

Another envisages transient museum experiences, where objects are showcased on trains as they are returned back to their country of origin. Plugging into mass transit systems, the scheme presents the museum with an alternate business model, as a travel and tourism guide and international affairs ambassador. In an increasingly globalised community, a move to deliver artefacts back to their country of origin, exemplifies cultural awareness. With heightened political uncertainties, this gesture can ease political tensions.

Josef Hargrave, Senior Analyst, Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation commented:

“It is a common misconception that museums are designed to house objects. In actual fact they are designed to give visitors an experience, and just as our tastes in fashion and food change over time, so do our tastes in experience. Like any business, it is essential that museums understand their target markets’ preferences and respond to these.

“A number of Museums are already showing a desire to expand their offering. The opening of the Tate and the V&A Museum for live events, late nights and after-work hours for example, has seen them benefit from new revenue streams and engage new demographics. By giving museums visibility of the changes affecting their industry, we hope to inspire their development to better meet the experiential demands of their visitors.”