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Rio's Museum Of Tomorrow Is Not Without Controversy


People in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have seen an addition to the city's skyline. It's a new museum, the Museum of Tomorrow. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro went to visit.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The Museum of Tomorrow poses this intriguing question. What tomorrow do we as humans actually want?

LEONARDO MENEZES: If we have different choices, different tomorrows are going to be built. So are those going to be sustainable or not? It's up to us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Leonardo Menezes is the content manager for the museum. Visitors are taken on a journey that explores human history and our impact on the earth, how we have become a force of nature that is transforming our environment and ourselves in indelible ways, both beautiful and destructive. The narrative packs a punch.

MENEZES: We think that an emotional experience is the best way for people to just feel that they might have to rethink about their lives in some way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That surprisingly emotional journey begins with a cosmic portal which acts as a time machine. It's actually a theater shaped like an old fashioned planetarium. You are actually encouraged to lie on the floor on beanbags staring up at the circular walls as you are taken through space and time to the beginning of the universe. It could've been hokey, but in eight minutes, using virtual reality technology, the film zooms with explosive imagery. You're cocooned in the center of stars being born. It zips through evolution to modern man. It's a dizzying, soaring delight that is meant to show how humans are made from the very stuff of creation and how we are connected to everything on the planet. Some people had tears in their eyes at the end. After that, you enter a mirrored hall filled with the sounds of human endeavor. In it, what curators call totems, square floor-to-ceiling pillars, are covered with photographs grouped into sections. It was inspired, say curators, by Stonehenge. A totem called Excess, for example, with pictures of mountains of garbage and massive shopping malls, sits next to one called Belief with images of global worship and prayer. The juxtaposition is meant to be deliberately jarring and disorienting, say curators. It all leads up to the grand finale, a cathedral of large screens flashing these words.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The giant screens in front of me are saying, we cultivate. We explore. We transform. Today, we are a planetary force.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What follows are startling statistics and pictures of what we have done to our home, forest fires, traffic. The underlying message is that the age of humans could very well be called the age of consumption, and our desire for more and more is killing us. To drive that message home, dotted around the museum, there are interactive screens with quizzes where you can, for example, discover your carbon footprint. The idea behind the Museum of Tomorrow resonates in a developing nation like Brazil, where consumption is how success is measured, says visitor Leandro Mello, a mechanical engineer.

LEANDRO MELLO: It makes us feel that we need do a little better, take more care of our planet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michael Lipkin is an American architect, and he went to the museum with me. He says museums often embody the grand aspirations of a city or at least those of its planners. But their fate is ultimately decided over time by the people who go to them and the community that surrounds them.

MICHAEL LIPKIN: The Guggenheim Museum, perhaps New York's most iconic midcentury building, was rejected by most of the press. So I think when you decide your building the Museum of Tomorrow, then I think we're going to have to wait until the day after tomorrow to understand what it really means.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To Rio and to the world, he says, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.