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Expo 2020 pavilion design revealed

Opportunity, Mobility, Sustainability

September 2016

BIG, Foster + Partners and Grimshaw Architects to design Pavilions for Dubai Expo 2020, the first world exposition in the Middle East.

Although the opening date of October 20, 2020 is more than four years away, plans for Dubai Expo 2020 are well advanced. The overall theme of the expo is Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, with the three sub-themes being Opportunity, Mobility, Sustainability, each of which will have its own pavilion.

The competition to design the three themed pavilions opened in July 2015. The challenge was to create structures that would continue to have useful lives after the end of Dubai Expo 2020. In March this year, winners were announced from among 13 leading international architectural firms. The winners are Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) for Opportunity; Foster + Partners for Mobility; and Grimshaw Architects for Sustainability.

“Expo 2020 will be a festival of human ingenuity. We hope that the nations and organisations that take part in Expo, and the millions who visit, will explore the power of connections across the spheres of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability,” said HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Expo 2020 Preparatory Higher Committee Chairman and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline & Group. “Our theme pavilions will play a central role in bringing this to life.”

Mohamed Alabbar, Expo Higher Committee member and Chairman of Emaar Properties, said, “The winning theme pavilion designs further build on the UAE and Dubai’s proven record in iconic architectural design, particularly when considering their long-term functionality, sustainability and contribution to Expo 2020’s legacy and Dubai’s long-term development.”

BIG’s Opportunity Pavilion

The Bjarke Ingels Group approached the Opportunity Pavilion as an opportunity to show that the challenges of desert heat and maximum sun could be harnessed for the greater good. As the architects wrote, “By merging the maximum roof surface and allowable building height with the minimum footprint at ground level, the Pavilion creates the largest possible shading structure with the smallest possible volume. The saw-tooth form of the roof is oriented to allow for ample natural light to filter in from the north, while south-facing photovoltaic panels harness solar energy to power the Pavilion and its exhibits.”

The building’s façade is designed to look like “a billowing curtain” that has been called “extravagant” by some critics, but it has a purpose beyond appearance. The “curtain” allows entry into the Pavilion and thereby allows visitors to see other structures nearby. At night the lights embedded in the “curtain” outline the façade in a different way, changing the visitor’s experience as daylight turns to darkness.

The Opportunity Pavilion is BIGs first approved project in the Middle East. The firm is responsible for innovative designs in Europe, Asia, and North America. BIG is currently working on a new headquarters campus for Google in California.

Foster + Partners’ Mobility Pavilion

From above, the Mobility Pavilion from Foster + Partners resembles a series of infinity loops, like a multi-level racetrack. At ground level, it resembles two bowls joined by a bridge in the middle. Like the other pavilions, it has a curved shape and whatever is in one bowl will flow to the other. Straight lines are few, perhaps indicating the elimination of barriers between peoples – a goal of any world exposition.

Pritzker-Prize winner Lord Norman Foster and his team are responsible for several major projects in the UAE including a tower complex and Masdar City, an experiment in sustainable use of energy, both in Abu Dhabi, as well as The Index building in Dubai. Foster + Partners have designed many projects and master plans around the globe.

Grimshaw Architects’ Sustainability Pavilion

The Sustainability Pavilion by Grimshaw Architects is another curved design, appearing to be an enormous plate resting on a base, looking like an enormous solar collector. To draw solar energy in the desert, one of the ways to do it is with a tower that beams the light to the collector. The large bowl-like disc plays the role of a parent to the many smaller discs around it. The smaller discs replicate the big one except that they are perched high on ribbon-like poles. The ensemble resembles a forest of elegant satellite dishes.

Grimshaw Architects has been associated with many dramatic designs but perhaps most relevant to Dubai Expo 2020 was the Eden project in Cornwall, UK. The Sustainability Pavilion has been designated as the core of a future cluster innovation center after Expo closes.

Goals for Dubai Expo 2020

Preparations have been ongoing for more than three years and will accelerate as the start date approaches. The scale of Expo 2020 is huge. Expecting more than 250 participant countries, Dubai Expo 2020 will inaugurate a one-pavilion per country policy for the first time in the history of global expositions.

Dubai Expo 2020 will take place at the Dubai Trade Centre in Jebel Ali, halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a site of more than 438 hectares of which 150 hectares are for the Expo and the rest for residential, hospitality, and logistics. More than 25 million visitors are expected during the six months from October 20, 2020 – April 10, 2021.

Minister of State for International Cooperation, Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy is Director General of Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau: “Building and implementing strategic partnerships on a city wide level is already being progressed and the driving forward of potential international participant engagement across governments, private sector and institutional players is underway. Through our theme, Dubai Expo 2020 will serve as a catalyst, connecting minds from around the world and inspiring participants to mobilise themselves around shared challenges, during a World Expo of unprecedented global scope.”

Everyone will benefit from a massive effort to achieve sustainability with at least 50 percent of energy coming from renewable sources; a transportation plan including people movers onsite; location of the centre of Expo 2020 at Al Wasl Plaza no more than 15 minutes walk from any part of Expo; and recycling of water, waste, and materials.

All of this will have tremendous economic impact on the UAE and the region. Estimates are that 275,000 jobs will be created to support Expo 2020 and that over the next five years more than USD 19.8 billion will enter the economy as a direct result of planning and realisation of Dubai Expo 2020.

Finally, 2021 will usher in the Golden Jubilee of the founding of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 with Dubai Expo 2020 serving as a springboard to the future.

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