Dubai-based architect Shaun Killa on designing the future

Jhe shimmering torus-shaped museum of the future in Dubai is covered in Arabic calligraphy and is supported not by the traditional columns but by a steel beam, with a facade of 1,024 steel panels. The aviation industry inspired the technology needed to create the exterior which was developed using learning algorithms. “All the structural parameters were put into a program, and eventually he learned how to create that shape,” says architect Shaun Killa.

Opened in February 2022, the building is an iconic addition to Dubai’s already spectacular skyline, which includes the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. These modern, globally recognizable structures have made a name for Dubai’s architecture, but the history of Dubai’s cityscape goes back much further. “A lot of times the story is that since the 2000s it’s been a place of gleaming skyscrapers,” says architect and writer Todd Reisz, author of Flagship city: how architecture created Dubai.

Shaun Killa, design partner at Killa Design, at the Museum of the Future on July 27

Siddharth Siva for TIME

But the creative fusion seen in the architecture of structures like Killa’s Museum of the Future goes further. “I think the biggest influence on the city was the fact that it’s a warehouse, a port city,” says Reisz. “It’s a place of exchange and in-between, where not only things and people come in and out, but also ideas.” This interchange of ideas led to some of the most ambitious architectural projects in the world, in which Killa played an outsized role.

Killa first came to Dubai from South Africa in 1998, joining architectural firm Atkins, where he worked on the Burj Al Arab, one of Dubai’s most famous buildings, which stands sits on an artificial island and is shaped like a yacht sail. “For an architect coming from Cape Town, the scale of the buildings was so much bigger,” Killa says of Dubai. “If you’re used to smaller projects, it’s quite a challenge to overcome that scale.” Killa went on to work on other major projects in Dubai such as the Dubai Opera, Address Boulevard and the Almas Tower, the tallest building in Dubai at the time.

Killa launched his own architecture studio, Killa Design, in 2015 with the desire to create futuristic buildings that combine technical innovation and technology. Sustainability is also a driving force. For the Bahrain World Trade Center (BWTC), completed in 2008, Killa worked with wind tunnel and bridge specialists to create a building consisting of two wing-like structures with three 30m wind turbines suspended between them. The structures channel the wind to the turbines, which generate up to 15% of the building’s electricity.

Killa has helped advance architectural innovation in Dubai through his “challenging designs and demonstrated his ability to build them using the latest technologies on the market”, said Georges Kachaamy, Director of the Center for Research, Innovation and of Design from the American University of Dubai.

Killa also sees the importance of focusing on the livability of buildings and cities, and creating areas that are more bikeable and walkable. “The focus is on creating a better place to live, with more diversity,” he says.

With its atypical facade, the Museum of the Future, located in Dubai’s financial district, frequently appears on Instagram posts. And like the city itself, it has become a place of exchange, an oversized space where people gather, marvel and commune. “That pleasure that I saw from people really filled me with something very special,” Killa said of welcoming the public to the museum. “The building has now been passed to them.”

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