Santiago Calatrava-designed Museum of Tomorrow awarded accolade for green design

Spanish-Swiss Architect, Santiago Calatrava, has received the MIPIM Award for ‘Best Innovative Green Building’ for the design of Rio de Janeiro’s most-visited science museum, the Museum of Tomorrow. Here, FC&A celebrates this accolade with a tribute to Santiago Calatrava’s Neo-futuristic, green design.



hen selecting the Museum of Tomorrow as this year’s ‘Best Innovative Green Building’, the committee highlighted its unique building design and commitment to creating a better future. The museum’s sustainable architecture reflects the function as a museum and is constructed primarily from local materials. Among its innovative features are solar panels that move with the sun to maximise energy absorption, the collection of reusable rainwater and an air conditioning system that uses water funnelled from Guanabara Bay. This water is then filtered, cleaned and returned back to the bay through a small waterfall.

Water conservation is a critical component of the museum’s sustainable features. All of the water in the museum’s washbasins, sinks and showers is treated and recycled, along with the water used to dehumidify the air, which can reach up to 4000 litres of water per day. These efforts save an estimated 9.6 million litres of water and 2400 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year – enough to sustain over 1200 homes. The Museum of Tomorrow is also the first museum in Brazil to receive LEED ‘Gold’ certification.

Brazilian Landscape Architect, Burle Marx, oversaw the landscaping around the museum, and was careful to select native species that require a minimal amount of water to survive.


In its first year of operation, 1.4 million people visited the Museum of Tomorrow, far exceeding the anticipated 450,000 visits. Designed to be a place where science and technology meet art and culture, the Museum of Tomorrow has been recognised by leading cultural institutions worldwide. Its exhibitions have been awarded prizes by Canada’s International Design and Communication Awards, and its architectural design won ‘Best New Museum of the Year – Central and South America’ in the Leading Culture Destinations Awards.

Transforming the neighbourhood

The Museum of Tomorrow opened its doors in December 2015. Since then, it has become a symbol of the urban recovery of the Puerto Maravilha neighbourhood by the Mauá Pier, providing the area with new infrastructure and transforming the neighbourhood into one of the most attractive destinations in Rio de Janeiro.

The building design takes inspiration from the surrounding vegetation and Brazilian culture. The museum was made possible by the City of Rio de Janeiro and the Roberto Marinho Foundation, with sponsorship from Banco Santander Brasil and the BG Project. The project is supported by the Government of Brazil, through the Ministry of Environment and the Financier of Studies and Projects (FINEP).

In his first design, Santiago Calatrava’s vision led him and his team to propose the addition of a plaza outside the museum. Today, the plaza has created a more cohesive urban space and reflects the neighbourhood’s greater transformation. In 2016, the Museum of Tomorrow signed collaboration agreements with major organisations such as Google, the British Council, DutchCulture, the Dom Cabral Foundation, the Engie Foundation, the Science Museum Group, the United Nations, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and more.

Cultural influences

The design of the museum was inspired by the Carioca culture and through its architecture, it explores the relationship between the city and the natural environment. The museum includes 5000m² of temporary and permanent exhibition space, as well as the 7600m² plaza that wraps around the structure and extends along the dock. The building features large overhangs 75m in length on the side facing the square and 45m in length on the side facing the sea. These features highlight the extension of the museum from the dock into the bay. The permanent exhibition is housed upstairs, and features a roof 10m-high with panoramic views of Guanabara Bay. The total height of the building is limited to 18m, which protects the view from the bay of Sao Bento Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cantilevering roof with its large mobile wings and the facade structure expand almost the full length of the pier emphasising the extension into the Guanabara Bay, while minimising the building’s width. A reflection pool surrounding the building on the outside – used to filter water that is being pumped from the bay and released back in from the end of the pier – gives visitors the impression that the museum is floating.

The building is orientated in the north-south direction, off-centre from the pier’s longitudinal east-west axis, maximising a continuous landscaping feature containing beautiful gardens, paths and leisure areas along the southern length of the pier. A park walkway around the perimeter of the pier allows visitors to circumnavigate the museum, while enjoying panoramic views of the Sao Bento Monastery and the Guanabara Bay. The lower level contains functional and technical rooms, such as the museum’s administrative offices, educational facilities, research space, an auditorium, a museum store, a restaurant, lobby, archives, storage and a delivery area.

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