Expo 2020 dazzles with architectural achievements, focus on future of planet: New York Times

KT file photo
KT file photo

Event has equally relevant sub-themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity, newspaper says.

By Wam

Published: Tue 26 Oct 2021, 11:18 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Oct 2021, 11:24 PM

In a world that has been turned upside down in recent years by a pandemic, unrest and environmental catastrophe, the timely story of Expo 2020 Dubai is about communication, healing and building a better world, said the New York Times in a detailed feature article weaved in a compelling narrative about the world’s greatest show.

“ ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is the official theme, while the event has the equally relevant sub-themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity. The 2020 fair, which opened this month, was delayed because of the pandemic and will continue through March,” said the author, Sam Lubell.

Delineating the physical fabric of the global show, Lubell writes: “Building this layered narrative into the physical fabric of the event began well before 2013, when Dubai won an international competition, staged by the Bureau International des Expositions, to host what would be the first World Expo in the Middle East. Despite tweaks, the site’s original master plan, which was designed by the architecture and planning firm HOK (it was later adjusted and executed by another major design firm, AECOM), remains pretty much the same: a more than 1,000-acre site divided equally into petal-shaped zones representing sustainability, opportunity and mobility. Each zone is anchored by a large, themed pavilion set to remain after the fair.”

The other crucial source of “connecting minds”, he continued, is the fair’s expansive collection of national pavilions, which fill most of the site and immerse visitors in cultures and messages from around the world. “This year a record 191 countries are participating, according to the organisers, and for the first time in expo history, each has its own pavilion, ranging from hulking buildings to booths inside shared facilities.”

Describing the Emirati pavilion, the writer says, “Probably the most dramatic of the national pavilions is the United Arab Emirates’ own, designed by the architectural showman Santiago Calatrava. Inspired by the shape of a falcon’s wing (falconry is a cultural staple of the region), its multiple carbon fiber wings pivot and open up, creating an intriguing grand reveal and symbolising the country’s determined embrace of the future and its opening to the world. (The gesture also helps keep the pavilion’s solar panels clean in case of sandstorms.)

“Inside, visitors advance through a carefully choreographed sequence of spaces up to a lofty and natural-light-filled dome crowned by the expo’s logo, which forms a large skylight. It is a clear symbol of a sustainable, high-tech future, and a vibrant, culturally-informed present. “Expos are a chance for countries to show the best version of themselves,” Mr. Calatrava said. “Telling a story about their country, showing their products and capabilities, and lending a message of welcoming people into their country and showing it in a positive and constructive way.” He added: “These fairs have been connecting people all over the world for more than 150 years. They are still alive, and they still have something to tell.”

Tradition & Innovation.

While so much of Dubai Expo 2020 is about looking to the future, there is a balancing act going on here: The United Arab Emirates is equally set on celebrating its region’s history and traditions, the author continued.

“The show’s walking paths, lined with hearty local Ghaf trees (the national tree) are marked by black and white striations that recall a traditional Emirati weaving pattern called Sadu. Many of its benches are reproductions of those found in old Dubai, while others are concrete abstractions designed by the calligrapher Lara Captan, capturing Arabic words selected by a group of Emirati thinkers, scientists and poets.

“A London-based designer, Asif Khan, oversaw the event’s public realm and created its massive entry portals. Their intricate carbon-fiber patterning was resolved by airplane engineers and manufactured partly by robots, but they recall ancient Arabic Mashrabiya patterns.

“In researching the project I found a country that has long understood its past but was always looking into the future,” Mr. Khan said.”

The author highlighted the strict pandemic countermeasures put in place in the global event: “Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this type of intensive gathering is being regulated by strict precautions, including mask and vaccination requirements, and limitations to the number of people in the fair and inside each exhibit. Dubai’s climate (particularly in the milder months when the show is taking place) allows much of the interaction to take place outdoors.”

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