Expo 2020 Dubai: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future


Dubai - The greatest show on the Earth begins

by Anjana Sankar

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Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 7:12 PM

Last updated: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 7:36 PM

The world is ready for the first global exposition to take place in the Middle East — in Dubai, the most populous city in the UAE, and the jewel in the region’s crown — that was delayed by a year in 2020 because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

The site, located in the south of the emirate, is gearing up to what organisers estimate to be up to 25 million visitors between October 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022.

Over 190 countries are expected to participate in the six-month-long exposition, whose central theme is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and based on sub-themes such as mobility, sustainability and opportunity.

Dubai, which was awarded the expo by the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIS) in November 2013, has pumped in billions of dollars in the project, to develop both the 1,000-acre site and a world-class infrastructure across the emirate.

Much of the infrastructure will outlive the showpiece event, as the authorities have undertaken an ambitious scheme such as converting a portion of the sprawling site into a mixed commercial and residential development that is being called District 2020.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, who has transformed the emirate over the past 25 years, has been working overtime to diversify its economy amid a growing volatility in crude oil prices and the world’s increasing reliance on renewables energy.

The expo seeks to further burnish Dubai’s credentials as a global innovation hub and an alternative to Silicon Valley in the US.

The sprawling site is divided into three thematic districts and at the heart of them is several pavilions that encompass these distinct sub-themes.

The pavilion for each sub-theme is designed by Foster + Partners, Grimshaw Architects and AGi Architects.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has designed the UAE National Pavilion.

The three pavilions form the fulcrum of the six-month-long event.

Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion

The pavilion combines technology and creativity to inspire people to come together to foster a more sustainable future for the world at large.

It aims to raise awareness of human impact on the environment.

Designed by the UK-based Grimshaw Architects, the pavilion is spread across 6,300 square metres and is built to be net-zero for both energy and water.

With winding pathways, gardens, shaded enclaves, it features over 1,000 photovoltaic panels embedded in glass panels that form a roof canopy and Energy Trees that act as solar panels.

The canopy allows the building to harness solar energy while providing shade and daylighting to the visitors below.

Altogether, 19 Energy Trees, which are between 15 and 18 metres (m) in diametres, are installed outside the pavilion that contribute towards self-reliance in energy generation.

Another 19 Energy Trees of a similar diametre are dispersed across the site and provide 28 per cent of the energy required to power the building.

Energy Trees follow the sun in the same manner as a sunflower, rotating 180 degrees to maximise the energy yield and increase the efficiency of the solar cells.

Terra’s interactive experience tells the tale about humankind’s relationship with the planet.

Visitors are expected to walk outside the pavilion, soak in the greenery, and structures of wild animals.

It signifies the beginning of a timeline of change that starts with lush verdant forests, and clean oceans.

Visitors will also experience an interactive underground forest and ocean.

A courtyard built deeper into the ground to bring in cooler air and an underground reservoir that helps collect rainwater are the other highlights.

Visitors are encouraged to rethink at the science centre how their actions have impacted the planet.

One of the core galleries in the building is a ‘laboratory-of-future-values'.

Visitors are going to find many examples of ideas and innovations in the lab that will show the power of human ingenuity, and how people have the potential to change if they act collectively.

There’s a sustainably-focused café, which champions locally-sourced produce.

The café serves assorted food items such as Dibba Bay oysters, organic meat, fruits and vegetables sourced from the northern emirates — Umm Al Quwain (UAQ) and Ras Al Khaimah (RAK).

There is also a large gift shop that has sourced most of its products from local sustainably-focused SMEs, including Wild Wood, a sunglasses brand made from reclaimed wood and The Botanist, which produces earth-friendly, toxic-free cleaning supplies.

The pavilion will be retained as part of the Expo legacy and the space will be turned into a children’s science centre that will continue to inspire and educate young minds.

ALIF — the Mobility Pavilion

Designed by Foster + Partners, Alif — The Mobility Pavilion blurs the boundaries between the physical and digital world and invites visitors to meet the historical icons of mobility, whose innovations helped pave the way for our modern-day technology.

The pavilion features the world’s largest passenger lift, which can transport more than 160 people at a time.

A 330-metre track — partly underground and open-air — is also featured in the pavilion.

It allows visitors to view cutting-edge mobility technologies in action.

The pavilion is named Alif after the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, which symbolises the "beginning of progress and new horizons".

Visitors are expected to undergo a thought-provoking experience.

The pavilion showcases how mobility has been the driving force behind mankind’s development through the years, leading to explorations beyond Earth's frontiers.

The pavilion has a separate enclosure called the House of Wisdom, where visitors can meet larger-than-life, nine-metre-tall historical giants of mobility whose innovations helped us navigate the world and paved the way for the technology.

The immersive experience will take visitors beyond earth and the unchartered territories.

From the very first steps out of Africa to space travel to our interconnected digital world – mobility has been the tour de force behind the rapid development of humankind.

It displays how mobility continues to transform the way we live, connect with people, understand different cultures, and exchange knowledge and ideas.

Visitors will learn about smart cities and how they are created through AI, big data, robotics, machine learning, and autonomous transport.

They will also gain insights on the complex process of moving goods around the world, and how mobility could evolve in human-centered cities of the future.

The display areas are separated into three key zones on the inside, each of which forms a petal in the tri-foil layout.

Visitors arrive through the main entrance, which features a moving platform that transports everyone to the third floor.

They can descend to the lower ground level through a series of interconnected galleries, where they will see new, immersive, and interactive activities centred on mobility.

The pavilion is designed to achieve a LEED Gold rating and will be repurposed as a high-quality office space as part of the larger legacy plan.

Mission Possible – the Opportunity Pavilion

The pavilion, designed by AGi Architects, builds on the rich urban history of the plaza and its universal significance as a place for people to connect across age, language and culture.

It is spread over 8,784 square metres, and was created with the goal of instilling empathy in visitors and inspiring them to take action to make the world a better place.

Floating 32 metres above the ground, its canopy represents clouds, while a terracotta carpet covers the ground and the pavilion’s facade, representing Earth and inviting visitors to share their experiences.

From fog nets to personal pledges and the United Nations (UN) Hub, the pavilion will be Dubai’s physical embodiment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN SDGs, a 17-point action plan that target ending poverty, protecting the planet, and improving the lives and prospects of people around the world — will be brought to life at the event with a physical presence at the event, in the form of Mission Possible – The Opportunity Pavilion.

The pavilion is an interactive exhibition that addresses what the UN says are the most fundamental global challenges of our time.

The gates of the pavilion open up to three tracks that highlight key sustainable goals — food, water and energy — and run parallel to each other.

Visitors can select any or all tracks based on their interests.

These resources have been chosen since they are basic human needs essential for human progress.

Three guides will play host to each of these tracks.

These changemakers from different corners of the world have been selected as they have made a big difference to their communities by helping conserve precious resources and create opportunities to benefit societies.

Their work illustrates the pavilion’s message that small action can, indeed, cause a massive ripple effect.

The UN will have a dedicated space, the UN Hub (#UNHub), at Mission Possible, where the experience will focus on water, food and energy – the key elements of the SDGs.

Three innovative projects will represent these themes.

Abel Cruz from Peru to address water shortages through fog nets that harvest fog and turn it into water; Mariam Al Juneibi, an Emirati sustainable organic farmer to promote sustainable farming and healthy eating practices, while encouraging people to grow their own vegetables; and Fatma Juma Haji, a master trainer who teaches other women to install solar panels, helps create sustainable energy in Zanzibar, where less than four per cent of the population has access to electricity.

The experience ends in the Pledge Room, an upside-down space entered through the clouds, where visitors will commit to a course of action that seeks to make a difference to their own and community’s lives.

Soon, their pledges will be transported to the garden that is located in the ceiling of the room.

- anjana@khaleejtimes.com

Anjana Sankar

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