Museums of the Future

In an age of digital natives, how can museums hold our attention? Jane Anderson consults worldwide institutions with big plans

The Oxford English Dictionary define the word 'museum' as, ‘a building used for the storing and exhibition of objects including antiquities, natural history and works of art’. In an age of hyper-immersive media, and rapidly diminishing attention spans, how on earth do museums plan to engage audiences old - and especially - young? 

Ask a teenager whether they fancy a visit to a museum, and there will be blank looks all round. Yet in reality, museums are some of our most progressive foundations when it comes to cultural engagement, ground-breaking architecture and outreach programmes, as they strive to push beyond the traditional idea of artefacts in glass cabinets, housed in austere buildings.  

One of the world’s oldest and most venerable museums, the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A, which opened its London doors in 1852, is now a powerhouse of innovation, adopting an ambitious plan of regional expansion. As V&A director Tristram Hunt says, “At the V&A we’ve got 1.7 million objects telling the story of human ingenuity. History is at its most exciting when we have conversations about the past and what it means for the present and future. The big change for the V&A is moving from a museum around South Kensington with its historic outlook, to a multi-site museum.” 

The V&A has done just that by opening in Scotland on the banks of the River Tay in Dundee, in the quest to have a much stronger regional footprint – somewhat like the Guggenheim did when it rejuvenated Bilbao. As Hunt says, “The V&A Dundee provides culture-led regeneration for a post-industrial city dealing with the collapse of the manufacturing and IT sector of the 1980s.” Designed by the Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates, and modelled on the granite cliffs of Scotland, the museum tells the story of Scottish design. 

Not resting on its laurels, the V&A is now turning its attention to an area of East London called East Bank, the 21st century answer to London’s South Bank. It’s right next to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, created for the London Olympics, along with Zaha Hadid’s London Aquatics Centre. This happening area of regeneration is now home to Sadler’s Wells East, the BBC Choirs and UAL’s (University of Arts London) consolidation of all its fashion schools including London College of Fashion. V&A East is due to open in Spring/Summer 2025 designed by husband and wife architecture team, O’Donnell and Tuomey. Their building design is inspired by the Vermeer painting they viewed on a visit to the National Gallery of Ireland, and also by a visit to the V&A’s 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' exhibition and the X-ray of Cristobal Balenciaga’s evening dress. 

Hunt says, “What we’re planning here is an exhibition space but also galleries focused on the history of making and designing.” This pays homage to a long legacy of creativity in East London around Spitalfields, with its Jewish community and the place where many renowned artists such as Tracey Emin worked in the 1990s. “This area is the youngest and most diverse, with the fastest growth in innovators in London, who with the best will in the world we find it difficult to get to South Kensington. So having a footprint there in Newham, Tower Hamlets is a social mission. This is where the creatives of tomorrow are working and we need to be a storehouse for them to draw upon for their creative practise,” explains Hunt.   

“We’re also building V&A East Storehouse in Stratford where you'll be able to walk around and see once-hidden storage with over 250,000 objects, 350,000 library books and 1,000 archives, blurring the boundaries between public and private back of house spaces,” adds Hunt. “We’ve also got the space to recreate some great historic rooms such as the 1930s office Frank Lloyd Wright made for American businessman Edgar J. Kaufmann. What it also means is that you, as a member of the public, or a scholar or an artist want to order an object to study it – you want to look at 15th century Venetian glass for yourself – we will have the study rooms for you to do that. You will order a week ahead online. That very democratic principle of the V&A that, ‘all of this belongs to you’ as Henry Cole, the V&A’s first director once said, will be available again in the Storehouse.” 

Ask Hunt what he thinks is one of the most progressive museums in the world today he highlights the Museum of Art and Photography ( in Bangalore by Mathew & Ghosh Architects, conceived by philanthropist and collector Abhishek Poddar in 2020. 

“India has a strong tradition of cultural events, but not a tradition of galleries. So how do you crack that code?” asks Hunt. “How do you understand how digital natives will engage with a museum when it’s not in their culture? The architecture of museums has changed from a narrow didactic approach to one that is now much more collaborative – co-curation, co-design, thinking about community voices. On the one hand you want that sense of ownership and engagement, whilst remembering that we’re not a community centre. This is also about education – broadening our horizons with the expertise of curators, educators and designers to try and push the audience. It’s a challenge to do this without being elitist. The way through is to have as inviting a welcome as possible. Plus events. We run the London Design Festival. Lots of young designers are excited to engage with the past. But we always keep reinventing.” 

Berlin is also keeping pace with museum technology with its new Deutschlandmuseum ( in Leipziger Platz, a poignant location where the city was once divided by the Berlin Wall. This immersive experience encourages visitors to cover 2,000 years of history across 12 epochs in an hour! Surely no one could be bored by that? This 4D museum features modern technology, sweeping vistas, an audio experience, and even aromas to bring history to life. It aims to engage with a formula that’s part education, part amusement park. 

Deutschlandmuseum director, Robert Ruckel comments, “Digital natives are accustomed to assimilating a vast amount of information in a very short time. On the other hand, they recognize that they no longer need to memorize details but can look them up when necessary. Therefore, museums need to become more engaging, provide overviews, and deliver information quickly to align with the current zeitgeist.” 

The terms ‘museum’ and ‘future’ are surely an oxymoron? How can something that holds artefacts from the past tell us anything about what’s to come? Dubai’s Museum of the Future ( takes up the challenge. The 77m-tall building certainly feels futuristic, designed in the shape of a lopsided doughnut inscribed with Arabic calligraphy, where the doughnut is the ‘known’ and the hole in the middle represents the ‘unknown’. Designed by Killa Design architects and looked after by the Dubai Future Foundation (, the structure is powered by renewable energy. It’s LEED Platinum-certified, placing it among the world’s lowest-impact buildings. 

The purpose of this museum is to show the things that will evolve in years to come via forward-thinking exhibitions centred on innovation. A lift simulates a Space Shuttle ride into space. Different floors explore different parts of our lives, perhaps the most valuable one is the wellness floor delving into our five senses. It also houses an intellectual centre to provide a platform for studying future challenges alongside international partners and research entities.  

In neighbouring Abu Dhabi, some of the world’s most ambitious museums have opened included the Louvre Abu Dhabi ( designed by Jean Nouvel with a 180-metre, eight-layer star-latticed dome, allowing sunlight to filter through. This year sees the opening of teamlab Phenomena (, an immersive journey through cutting-edge installations sitting at the crossroads of art and technology. The intention is to be the world’s new home for ‘infinite curiosity’ exploring artworks that evolve freely and organically as if they were life-forms themselves. Even the building, designed by MZ Architects, is an organic shape taking visitors inside and out, working like a human body where everything is connected. 

2025 sees the opening of Zayed National Museum (, the Fosters & Partners architectural renders of which resemble some kind of elegant spaceship rather than a stuffy institution and proving that museums are at the cutting edge of architecture. Narrow glass atriums rise from the museum, made from lightweight steel structures, representing the wing tips of the falcon, a national symbol of UAE heritage – but also acting as solar thermal towers to draw hot air out. The museum aims to showcase the history, culture and, crucially, the social and economic transformation of the Emirates in pod-shaped galleries suspended over a dramatic top-lit central lobby. Celebrating Sheikh Zayed’s legacy and love of nature, the museum will be set within a landscaped garden, based on the timeline of his life.  

In contrast to these newly constructed museums, Norway is turning its attention to the regeneration of an architecturally significant 1930s grain silo. This functionalist gem is being transformed into Kunstsilo (, a new art institution and experience centre bringing together the Southern Norway Art Museum with the prestigious Tangen Collection of Nordic art, epitomising Nordic modernist art from 1930 to 1980. This testament to human ingenuity will be a place for everyone to interact with art as well as offering panoramic views of the coastline known as ‘Norway’s Riviera’. There will also be locations for lectures, concerts, dining experiences, workshops and events.  

Kunstsilo’s inaugural exhibition opens on May 11. ‘Passion of the North’, will be an immersive journey into the soul of Nordic art. Based on conceptual themes inspired by literary giants like Thomas Hardy and Virginia Woolf, it delves into the dynamics between society, community, the mechanical and organic aspects, and the contrast between rural and urban life. The exhibition will unfold through 25 rooms, each adorned with its distinct mood and pastel colour, making every space an art piece in itself. Kunstsilo hopes to attract people who don’t normally visit museums and galleries. Reidar Fuglestad, managing director of Sorlandets  Kunstmuseum and Kunstsilo said, “Our mission is to bring people to the arts and the arts to the people. This means giving you a chance to encounter and reflect upon yourself as well as the times you are living in through the very best that the arts have to offer. I think most people feel this is more than just an ordinary building.” 

It seems above all, the success to museums in the modern age is as old as what makes us human – the ability to tell stories. Much of this comes via our instinct for play – now recognised as the best way for young children to learn. Two progressive museums in the USA base their success on this combination of storytelling and play. 

The National Museum of African American Music in Nashville ( is the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans and prides itself on its technology-first approach. Features include an interactive rap battle booth and dance room as well as the opportunity to curate your own playlist based on your favourite artists on user-friendly consoles dotted throughout the museum.  

Dion Brown, executive director, NMAAM says, “In today’s world, museums must get outside of their four walls to attract in-house visitors. NMAAM, like many others, is exploring, designing, and implementing different technologies to expand and welcome new and returning guests. We are currently working on an app that will expand access to digital collections, museum programming and more.” 

And in New York State in the town of Rochester, The Strong National Museum of Play ( is all about this engagement - so vital to the success of modern museums. Not only can you stroll down Sesame Street but you can immerse yourself in a new ESL Digital Worlds exhibit which has two video game areas, Level Up and High Score, and create your own avatars whilst learning about the video game industry. Who would have thought that whilst parents the world over are begging their kids to come off their screens, a museums is embracing the creativity of this pursuit? 

Which all brings us full circle back to the V&A in London. From its 19th century origins to just last year, the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green was a place about childhood for adults to reminisce - despite taking their bored children along to have a stare at old prams and board games behind glass. A recent transformation into the Young V&A ( – a museum about play for children, speaks volumes about the future of our museums. Three new galleries - Play, Imagine and Design - feature 2,000 objects dating from 2,300 BC to today. Hands-on experiences include optical illusions, sensory playscapes, a giant marble run, a story-telling stage, a self-portrait making station and den-building area. It’s a frazzled parent’s dream, and what’s more it’s free. Works by leading artists and changemakers from Olafur Eliasson to Greta Thunberg sit along examples of children’s own creativity. And you don’t get much more democratic and playful than that. After all, museums must engage our young people – the ultimate changemakers of the future. 

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