Cactus Designs Multisensory Museum to Express the Power of Human Connection
Cactus, the Brooklyn-based cross-sectoral design studio, is pioneering the museum of the future by looking to the past. Commissioned by Brazil’s premier telecommunications company, Oi, Cactus led the redesign for the ‘MUSEHUM’ of Communications and Humanities: an avant-garde, immersive depiction of the history of communication. Utilizing today’s technology (including VR to cutting-edge IoT), Cactus provides an awe-inspiring, interactive experience for guests to reflect on their personal and shared relationship with communication.
Titled ‘MUSEHUM’ – with the ‘H’ representing a theme of humanity – the MUSEHUM of Communications and Humanities was originally born out of the 1981 Telephone Museum. In 2007, Oi expanded it into the Telecommunications Museum to address the growing mobile and telecom industry. Looking to reposition the museum as a place for connectivity and engagement, Cactus came on board in 2017 to develop interpersonal installations and craft a museum redesign that would better demonstrate the project’s goals of interaction, self-reflection, and human collaboration.
“The public is an active collaborator in the museum, because communication, truly, is the exchange of affections, knowledge and information, and people are the protagonists of these processes. It is the human that gives meaning to technology,” explains Roberto Guimarães, Oi Futuro’s executive culture manager.
To assist in the museum redesign, Cactus and the client used research from a 2019 survey conducted by Oi and Consumoteca: “Narratives for the Museum Future.” Distributed throughout Brazil, the field study concluded that most museum visitors prefer technological tools to enhance and personalize their visit, and 50% of respondents only visit a museum once. Known for expertly designing high-tech, connected experiences that relate to the space’s physical architecture, Cactus integrated a variety of engaging, ever-changing installations to address these findings:
- Cabinet of Curiosities & Digital Windows: The museum hosts a reserve collection of over 400 items – ranging from candlestick phones to early cell phones. Guests are invited to walk through this displayed archive – a cabinet of curiosities – and view the evolution of communication first-hand. Interactive touch screens, titled “digital windows,” further explore the 140-year-old history and stories of telecommunications using a vast library of content (over 130,000 historical objects, documents, and directories) from the museum’s archives and technical database. The selection of collection items and multimedia content is constantly changing, providing guests with a new view every visit.
- Folds of Time – VR Experience: Guests are able to experience a bygone era of telecommunication through virtual reality, becoming an actor and a spectator all at once. Cactus developed a VR journey of a telephone operator, with guests virtually working a switchboard and listening in on the stories of real people through their telephone calls and operator requests. The reconstitution of the environment was created from real cases found in research from the museum’s documentary collection.
- Immersive Networks – The Wheel: What are the impacts of digital networks, and how do they affect human interaction? Guests can enter this mirrored infinity room of light and visual effects in a group while digital content surrounds them, and view themselves as part of an ever-expanding, infinite network of data. Prior to entering the space, each guest’s photograph is captured. Once the guest steps inside the full experience, pictures of all occupants – past and present – surround the entrant, abstractly visualizing the importance of human connection.
- Super Selfie: Upon entering the museum, visitors can opt into a selfie from a stationed tablet. The selfie then materializes into a large, deconstructed digital photo on a wall of the museum, making the guest an active part of the museum itself. Guests watch their own image materialize out of swirling data on the wall, and see their selfie deconstruct and morph into images of other participating guests.
“We wanted to design a cohesive, yet personalized journey that inspires curiosity and connectedness, explains Lucas Werthein, Founder and Head of Technology & Products at Cactus. “Integrating digital and immersive experiences allows MUSEHUM to be dynamic. Every visit is unique and every visitor has an individual experience each time. Woven into the fabric of the MUSEUM’s content, the intent was for the visitors to not only become part of the story, but to recognize themselves as a fundamental part of the greater story of humanity.”
The result is a thought-provoking environment that allows for an astonishing sojourn through the adventure of human communication. Fundamental to the experience, the design of the museum simultaneously allows guests to be both participants and spectators through Cactus’ fully immersive installations that are contemplative and educational. Deeply impactful, visitors are left to reflect on the development of communications technologies and how those advances have touched and shaped society and human interaction on a national and global scale.
“As a free, cultural institution, the MUSEHUM is open to all – which aligns with our mission to promote connection and communication between people in abstract, nuanced, and educational ways,” said Marcelo Pontes, Founder and Head of Architecture at Cactus. “Through this redesign, guests can reflect on the impact of communications and the development of humanity by seeing the past, living the present and imagining the future.”