Expo 2020 Dubai: Dutch pavilion to showcase vertical farm that can produce own food, water

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Photo by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times
Photo by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times

Dubai - The pavilion designed by Rotterdam-based V8 Architects foregoes the typical concrete building in favour of a biotope.

By Story by Anjana Sankar and pictures by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times

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Published: Tue 21 Sep 2021, 5:45 PM

Last updated: Tue 21 Sep 2021, 8:34 PM

Have you imagined living in a world where there is zero carbon emissions, zero waste of natural resources and food scarcity and global warming is just a figment of your imagination? Stepping into the Netherlands pavilion located at the Sustainability District will transport visitors to a recyclable miniature world – a biotope with its own climate as it creates its own water, energy and food.

From the floor, you stand on to the curtains draping the main hall, and the water that is produced to irrigates the vertical farm daily to the perfume you can smell, the pavilion demonstrates how the circular management of natural resources can be implemented to save our planet.

Carel Richter, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Dubai, and also Commissioner General of the Pavilion said what you see in the pavilion is a project that started three years ago, with a vision to combine water, energy and food and raise awareness about global challenges related to the scarcity of natural resources.

“What the pavilion exhibits a new way of thinking of how to combine water, energy and food. And this thinking helps us to find solutions for future challenges, future challenges because of population growth, great scarcity of water scarcity of food scarcity of energy. If you are efficient, you can combine them in a sustainable way and create circularity, and find solutions for the challenges of the future,” said the diplomat.

Vertical farm that produces its own energy, water and food

The pavilion designed by Rotterdam-based V8 Architects foregoes the typical concrete building in favour of a biotope. At the heart of the pavilion is a 19-metre giant green cone covered in about 3500 edible plants like Basil, cress and other sprouting greens planted in circular rings around the cone. The farm is irrigated with water harvested from air using a Dutch technology powered by the sun’s rays coming through colourful, low-tech plastic solar panels on the roof. The ‘Rainmaker’ technology – co-developed by SunGlacier Technologies and Dutch artist Ap Verheggen – extracts 800 litres of water daily from desert air using solar energy. Same time, the sunlight coming through the panels helps plants in photosynthesis and also paint the pavilion in varied shades.

Michiel Raaphorst, Architect Director of the pavilion said the technique which is scalable can address water shortages in arid and dry climates like the one in the UAE.

“The Dutch is good at agriculture. We have used a very smart system where we do not spend litres of water on irrigation.”

He said they have used a ‘drop per crop’ approach which waters every plant based on the height, humidity and temperature.

Bio climate inside the cone

The vertical cone that grows plants on the outside is a mushroom nursery inside. To reach there, visitors have to walk a meandering path with rusted ramps that wind four metres down the ground where the weather immediately cools down.

The walk itself is a multi-sensory experience as sounds from the Netherlands of bikes whizzing past and cows mooing fill the air. As you enter the dimly lit space, visitors are handed over an umbrella that will offer a visual experience of nature and man’s close connection. As animated raindrops fall on the umbrella, aroma of mushrooms will fill your nose. The show ends ends with a showering down of water through the central chimney into a basin in the middle of the cone.

“This is part of the harvested water. The humidity and the lack of sunlight makes it a perfect environment to grow mushrooms,” said Raaphorst.

The ‘textile’ canopy

Gracing the exterior of the pavilion is a textile canopy made of bio-based material. Designed by Amsterdam-based BuroBelen, the canopy besides being sustainable can protect against harmful radiation from the sun that causes skin cancer but at the same time allow the body to produce Vitamin D.

Corn curtains

With a view of keeping the pavilion’s carbon footprint to the minimum, many of the materials used are locally sourced, reusable and biodegradable. For instance, the BuroBelen-designed curtains that are 26-metre-wide and 12-metre-long uses a natural substitute for plastic derived from corn starch.

Mushroom floors

The floor and the acoustic wall panels in the business lounge area are designed using a new bio-based building material made of mycelium composite core - the fungal extracted from the roots of mushroom - sourced from Italian interior design firm Mogu. The rest of the floor has a temporary flooring made of stones and an iron grid, that can also be repurposed and reused for future construction.

Steel sheets and pipes

The rusted steel sheets and pipes that form the main structure of the pavilion are locally sourced and will be returned after the Expo ends which emphasises the circularity of the construction material.

Perfume made of grass and hay

Inside the cone, visitors will be treated to the smell a unique perfume made of grass, hay and cow dung. The architect said it is a complex process but the end product is a subtle smell that represents the Netherlands. The perfume can be seen passing through a glass installation on the walls before it is collected in a jar covered with a lid.

Down the Drain Clock

The tour of the pavilion ends with a sobering yet stark message about how time has already run out for us to take meaningful action to save the planet. The hour clock designed by Atelier Van Lieshout doubles as humanity’s alarm clock reminding mankind that “the crushing wheels of time will either countdown to destruction or welcome a new dawn.”

“We are already late. But if we are taking any action to mitigate climate change and save the planet, it is now,” said Raaphorst summing up the message the pavilion wants to impart through Expo 2020.


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