The 'Future Forum' is a future incarnation of the Kulturforum, one of Berlin's essential museum districts. This is a rich work of fiction that serves as the basis for an immersive audioguide inviting visitors to interact with future staff and collections.
Background: Co-creating a Future Berlin and its Future Culture
"What might be the role of museums in the future" was the initial question submitted to us by the Berlin Kulturforum, one of Berlin's main museum districts. Our task would be to support the institution’s curatorial team in envisioning possible answers and develop a future world from the outcomes. Extending the worldbuilding, we scripted ways for museum visitors to interact with both fictional, future content, as well as current collections. In turn, this formed the basis of narrative design work for an interactive audio walk.
The first part was done during a two-day workshop devised to gather insights from the Kulturforum's curators and directors by digging out hidden assumptions, hopes, and concerns regarding the role of museums in the future. After multiple iterations of collective worldbuilding, role-play, and speculative writing exercises, three visions took shape: the future museum should be "a social forum for debate," "a place for commentary on environmental issues," and "a fun place for good times."
What unifies these visions is a conception of the museum that looks beyond its traditional role as a collector, research institution, and presenter of cultural heritage. The museum of the future is a place that takes an active role in social life and discourse. It’s a place where the contemporary is negotiated with regard to the past and the future. And it’s a place for life and community, fully taken over by the citizens of Berlin. This idea of an open museum that faces contemporary developments — that debates, digests, and consequentially integrates them — has been at the core of designing the Future Forum during the worldbuilding process.
Designing the Elements of Fiction
To envision the museum from the inside, we had to imagine its outside, beyond the museum in isolation, where possible evolutions of the world took place on different scales. Elements produced during the workshop drove the narration towards a world of digital scarcity, urban exodus, and not-yet-mainstream biocomputing. It is a world were the internet has collapsed, and to which the city of Berlin has adapted with the support of the Future Forum, host and guardian to a central repository of knowledge, where public speakers collect and verify information — one of the few places still connected to a global network. Museum conservators have turned gardeners and lovingly cultivate 'data gardens,' last repositories of barely-salvaged knowledge; a group of 'Degeneratists' challenges current artistic cannons by deconstructing anything they can lay their hands on, while followers of the 'Authentist' church counter any attempt at restoring artworks.
In addition to the central newsroom where information can be retrieved, the Future Forum is split into different expert units in charge of fact-checking and archiving information, as well as developing and maintaining communication tools. It also features a series of greenhouses dedicated to cultivating species of plants and fungi adapted to the needs of DNA storage, which are managed by specialized data gardeners and contribute to Berlin inheriting the moniker of 'Chlorophyl Valley.' The Future Forum is also home to a questionable private-public venture dubbed by many the ‘Googleheim’, and a mysterious den of 'blank artists' trained like method actors on artistic figures of the past so they can perfectly recreate their works — including the emotions they contain.
This world is conceived as a stage for a special quest — the audio walk — during which museum visitors are 'accidentally' contacted by an employee through a device for communicating across time (but not space). This 'antitelephone,' as it is called, is rudimentary at best, and can only connect two people standing at the exact same location on earth. Incorporating such a tradeoff into the fictional premise helped make the experience more believable, where trying to ‘stay together’ is an excuse to move, and follow the script.
The final experience was produced by NEEEU for the museum4punkt0 initiative. It is accessible through an application that can be used in lieu of an audioguide for visitors of the Berlin Kulturforum.