Expo 2020 Dubai: Iraq's free-flowing fishing net pavilion symbolises future opportunities


Dubai - The pavilion showcases the country's rich culture and achievements

by Anjana Sankar

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Published: Fri 22 Oct 2021, 12:37 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Oct 2021, 12:39 PM

The massive fishing nets or ‘Saliya’ as they are known locally in Iraq can be spotted hovering over the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates.

More than just a typical sight in Iraq, they are symbols of wealth, wisdom and goodness in Mesopotamian culture.

The Iraqi pavilion at Expo 2020, with its shell-like structure, draws inspiration from ‘Saliya’ and its free-flowing form.

Architect Raya Ani of Raw-NYC Architects, who designed the pavilion, says the organic flowing form of the net casting technique is suggestive of fishing, a form of livelihood in Iraq dating back to centuries.

“The fish symbolises rebirth and abundance. This structure represents the catching of future opportunities for a new Iraq in a global development context,” Ani told Khaleej Times.

“Presenting the Iraq pavilion in Expo 2020 is also a great opportunity to showcase the rich culture of Iraq and share it with the whole world. I wanted to highlight Iraq’s outstanding achievements in the past and present to develop future opportunities, bringing our country forward to be among the advanced countries in the world,” she said.

Budget constraints

But it was not an easy task. It took Ani three years of hard work, and several trips to Iraq to meet stakeholders – all with the constraints of a limited budget and a pandemic that made travel difficult.‬

“It is a dream come true. It was not just another project, it was also about ensuring Iraq is present at Expo 2020,” said Ani, who has also served as the President of the American Institute of Architects- Middle East Chapter.

When she thought about what aspect of Iraq she wanted to present to the world, the architect said she made three designs and put it out for public voting. Saliya, that elevated fishing nets into an art-form, won.

“Iraq has gone through several crisis. I wanted the design concept to reflect the people’s hope and also the importance to create new beginnings to build a future for a New Iraq,” she said.

The two rivers – Tigris and Euphrates – offered an opportunity to host the beginnings of human civilization. The first farm settlements were formed and farmers grew crops and caught fish.

The abundance of food resources led for a new life to begin and a population to grow. Visitors to the pavilion located at the Opportunity District can soak in the rich history of a country that has gone through long years of political instability and sectorial violence.

Inside the pavilion, two walls outline the pattern of the two rivers starting from north and meeting south.

The visitor’s experience of travelling down the river and around intends to showcase Iraq, to promote future collaboration, to open up business and developmental opportunities, while encouraging the visitor to network with Iraqis and build relationships on a global level.

A large outdoor space offers shade to create a naturally cool environment that saves energy and relies less on air-conditioning.

“The design leverages shading and passive cooling strategies allowing natural light and air movement into the pavilion through the sides and through the net openings. This translates in energy savings and natural ventilation,” said the architect.


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The bright colours used on the shell structure of the Iraq pavilion represents the photovoltaic power potential of Iraq, to show the amount of electricity generated and the available opportunity of solar energy in Iraq.

Ani said she used seven palm trees because of its own significance in Mesopotamian culture. Seven is representative of the number mysticism in ancient Iraq.

“The shade and shadow are a major concept played out throughout the pavilion to evoke a sense of being shaded under palm trees. The shadows on the walls coupled with palm tree imprints on the walls create a dialogue in shadows celebrating palm trees, the nature of Iraq and the symbolic use of the number seven.”

Anjana Sankar

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