As you enter, the sight of a small patch of turf, on which a mini football field has been prepared, complete with a goal post and a goalkeeper, greets you. Soon, a collective sigh escapes the huge crowd that has gathered there. Moments later a loud cheer erupts. As you reach the head of the queue, the reason for the disappointment and happiness is apparent.
A couple of children, one barely 10 years and the other a bit older, have been trying their luck at beating the goalkeeper to score a goal. However, the goalkeeper is not a human but a sensor driven mechanical device, robotkeeper, that moves to block a ball the moment a visitor kicks the ball towards the goal.
As the younger child’s shot is blocked by the ‘goalkeeper’, the crowd gathered around emits a loud sigh, that is quickly replaced by a loud cheer as the elder child manages to hit the ball past the goalkeeper and into the nets, scoring a goal.
No, this is not a practice match before the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Instead, this is a sight inside Qatar’s most popular and unique museums, the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympics & Sports Museum in Doha.
All in a game
While football is one of the most popular interactive exhibits at the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympics & Sports Museum, it is just one of hundreds of activities in this multi-storeyed building that houses by far the most unique and interactive museum in the world.
For children, sports enthusiasts or even academics and historians, the museum offers unmatchable experiences to visitors and is literally an entire encyclopedia on sports, its history and its evolution, not just over the years, but ever since humanity exists, with exhibits – sports equipment or documents — that date back to pre-historic times. And these are from the world over.
From small, wooden or stone objects that were used to play games in the yesteryears to the various forms of sports played during the Greek and Roman eras, one can learn a lot about them here.
One of the most important factors that distinguishes the sports museum from most museums in the world is that one can use any or all options to learn. Read the writing on the wall, or watch a video depicting how it was played or even better, at times, play those sports in an interactive game that adds innovation and artificial intelligence to the sports to make it possible for people to play or at least see it as if they were watching it live in a Roman amphitheatre. And the games are not just from Europe or Middle East.
Discover the earliest sports objects of the Aborigines in Oceania or by the tribes in African jungles and also traditional Indian sports here. There are well over 100 ancient objects or their replicas on display here.
It’s all about Olympics
Like most museums, the sports museum too has a rich and enviable collection of original artefacts and displays. In one hall, on display, are the original Olympic flames from every summer and winter Olympics since 1936. The Olympics hall lets the visitors explore the evolution of the Olympics from the earliest games in ancient Greece to the most recent ones.
A major section of the museum is devoted to 90 top athletes, from across the world and practicing a wide variety of disciplines. The collection is enriched with memorabilia, either original or replicas, associated with the athletes such as Sachin Tendulkar’s bat or Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari.
All the seven galleries in the museum have one thing in common. The museum’s designers have used all formats of learning possible and tried to make it as simple, interesting, interactive and fun as possible, so as to keep the visitors – right from tiny tots to senior generations – thoroughly engaged, with all their faculties – mind, body and spirit.
Literally at every step, there is an exciting game or experience that invites the visitors to try their hand and throughout the museum, one can hear squeals of excited children running through and trying out the experiences lined up for them. In many ways, a visit here can rival one to any theme park in terms of fun and thrill. Only, it comes with the additional bonus of immense learning.
Explore, learn and have fun
It is not just at the sports museum that one can see an innovative use of technology to impart learning about traditions, history and science and knowledge to visitors. Qatar seems to have mastered the art as is visible even in other cultural centres of the country, be it the National Library or the Qatar National Museum. At each of its museums, learning has been made so much fun that one can spend days and not notice it.
For instance, though it has over 1 million books and periodicals in 16 languages, the Qatar National Library is not just about the books. The library is much more than that. In one section, you can see children trying their hand at 3-D printing, carving out their latest Marvel heroes or in another children, and adults, can get to learn about graphic designing, with the latest softwares. The library also boasts of a dedicated recording studio for the budding artists and comes with a video and photography studio as well, which can be used for shooting, editing and making special effects on videos or VFX.
Returning to the books and information, the QNL has deployed technology here, too, to make learning far more interesting and interactive than just a tedious rote that it turns out to be in the schools.
In a large section dedicated to heritage, there is an interesting collection of 20 historical globes, manufactured from the 18th century to the mid-20th century. These globes, vary from 76 cm in diameter to just a few cm. The oldest globe here is one dating back to 1728, made by German cartographer and globe-maker Johann Gabriel Doppelmayr of Nuremberg.
The collection also contains a terrestrial globe made for King George III in 1811 by Dudley Adams, who was the ‘Globe and Instrument Maker to the King,’ as well as a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes by William Edward Newton and Miles Berry dating from 1838, and an American cosmosphere, which consists of a terrestrial globe inside a revolving glass celestial sphere, from 1867.
The Heritage Library also houses a growing collection of early photography from the Arab and Islamic world, including vintage prints, photo albums and photographically illustrated publications from the second half of the 19th century to the mid-20th century.
Immersive experiences at National Museum
The National Museum of Qatar offers another interesting perspective on the use of technology to create unique immersive experiences for visitors keen to discover the history of Qatar and its people. Opened barely three years ago, in March 2019, the museum takes visitors on a walk through about the history of the country through a chronological sequence of galleries, with numerous immersive, multisensory experiences that involve not just the sight or sound, but even smells to immerse the visitors entirely into the experience in front of them.
The museum’s building itself is a marvel as it is designed to resemble a desert rose and the use of curving walls of the galleries here gives the impression that the walls dissolve into the spectacles of light, sound and image. There are 11 galleries in all here which trace the history of Qatar, its people and culture over the eons as the first gallery talks of the geological formation of Qatar Peninsula almost 700 million years ago.
One of the most unique aspects of this museum is that every gallery comes with its own ‘Family Exhibit’ which has extremely interesting touch and feel experiences, notably for children, who get hands-on knowledge of a diverse range of subjects, like how to use tools for archaeological excavations, tracking animals in the desert, navigating by stars or make Arabic coffee.
This museum is an ideal example on how to make people aware about its history in the most unique way. There is a wall in the museum that has moving images and videos. Once you click on any image or video, it will pop up and tell you about the history of the image and the significance. You do not need any one’s help to understand the Qatari culture. The wall says it all.
And the biggest catch in the museum for photo enthusiasts is the stunning immersive light observation. You will be able to walk among 12,000 LED lights strung on cables, which represent neurons constantly firing and communicating with each other.
The five pillars of Islam
There is a meaning hidden behind every monument that you find in Qatar. The architect has to have some thought behind it. However, the most meaningful monument for many is the Education City Mosque.
The mosque is supported by five pillars, each representing one of Islam’s pillars: Shahada (profession of faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (giving alms), Sawm (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage).
Designed by Iraqi architect and calligrapher Taha al-Hiti, the minarets feature vertical calligraphy that sweeps upward, taking the viewer’s eye heavenward in a contemplation of faith and meaning. Though it serves as a community mosque for the surrounding Al Rayyan area, the Education City Mosque is a commentary on the compatibility between Islam and modernity. This monument is a perfect example of how perfect is the amalgamation of ancient with the modern in this magical city of Doha.