A new report “Museums in the Digital Age” envisions a dynamic future for museums. Published by Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation group, the report contends that museums must move far beyond static objects in glass cases and offer more personalized content, new levels of sustainability, and visitor experiences that extend beyond present expectations of time and space.
“It is a common misconception that museums are designed to house objects,” notes Senior Analyst Josef Hargrave. “In fact they are designed to give visitors an experience.”
The report calls attention to cultural changes that may affect what visitors expect to experience, and suggests changes in museum design and technology investments that can help museums meet those expectations.
For example, the report recognizes that museums must cater to increasingly disparate visitor groups–from Facebook-using digital natives to aging Baby Boomers. Funding restrictions will put pressure on some museums to be both more profitable and more inclusive.
The report makes several recommendations:
- Create more immersive experiences. As people become accustomed to having unlimited access to information, museums must figure out how to present their content in a manner that is appealing to all groups within society. Use innovations such as contact-less technology, augmented reality and face-recognition software to capture the imaginations of all visitor groups and enhance the physical experience.
- Find innovative ways to use advancements in 3D printing. For example, 3D printing can enable the accurate reproduction of rare, damaged or previously unavailable objects. Accurately reproduced objects could be exhibited in multiple locations. Museums could also give visitors the option of creating a copy of the artifact to take home.
- Consider creating 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 can reach a wider demographic, shifting the notion of where and how museums can exist in the future.
- Integrate sustainable and open spaces. In addition to managing water, heating and cooling systems more effectively, the museums of the future might shift towards the preservation and archiving of threatened living elements or the promotion of alternative food cultivation systems such as hydroponic farms.
The report concludes with a number of future scenarios in the year 2040, envisioned by students in the Narrative Environments course at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London. The students were mentored by the Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation team. Built on existing social and environmental trends, the scenarios 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 center and visitor attraction, becoming a driving force in the development of functional plants.
Another scenario envisions 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 globalized community, a move to deliver artifacts back to their country of origin would exemplify cultural awareness and might ease political tensions.
The 40-page report can be downloaded as a PDF from the Arup website.
Headquartered in London, Arup is an independent consultancy that provides professional services in management, planning, design, and engineering. The Arup F+R+I Team identifies and monitors trends and issues that are likely to have a significant impact upon the built environment and society at large. Other reports available through the company’s website cover The Future of Retail, The Campus of the Future, and the Living Workplace.