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February 2020

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EXPO 2020 Dubai's remarkable structures will reflect a galaxy of starchitects

1 February 2020

Images: Dany Eid/EXPO 2020 Dubai

World Expos have a proud heritage as genuine drivers of zeitgeist-setting architecture, responsible for countless iconic buildings that have gone down in the history books – from Crystal Palace at the first Expo in 1851 in London onwards. The Eiffel Tower in Paris (1889), the Atomium in Brussels (1958) and the Biosphere in Montreal (1967) are just three more examples of how Expos have transformed cityscapes across the world.

As the most international World Expo of all time, Expo 2020 will be no exception, presenting the next generation of iconic architecture that will live on long after the event closes on 10 April 2021 – designed by a fittingly globe-spanning combined team of starchitects representing the celebrated cream of the planet’s talent.

AL WASL PLAZA

One of the key architectural feats of Expo 2020’s creation was the completion of Al Wasl Plaza’s cavernous dome, spanning 130 metres wide, stretching 67.5 metres tall and weighing a total of 2,544 tonnes – equivalent to 25 blue whales. The name Al Wasl means ‘connection’ in Arabic, and Al Wasl Plaza has been designed to form a grand ‘urban room’ – a meeting place that creates a shaded microclimate. The intricate trellis design evokes the Expo logo, inspired by a 4,000-yearold ancient ring discovered at Saruq Al Hadid, an archeological site in the UAE.

Designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, Al Wasl Plaza will become a focal point for Expo’s most high-profile concerts and events, including the spectacular opening ceremony in October. Al Wasl Plaza will become a landmark for the ages as a core part of Expo’s legacy in barrier-pushing, forward-thinking future city District 2020, continuing as an events hub to inspire generations to come.

PUBLIC REALM

Perhaps the most poetic philosophy behind the Expo site’s myriad elements comes from renowned British architect Asif Khan. The man responsible for a storied show-reel of eye-grabbing structures from numerous previous mega events speaks with verve and charisma about the thinking that informed his designs for the Public Realm.

The experiential journey begins from the gates of Expo: the three Entry Portals that form the doors to The World’s Greatest Show are positioned at the entrance to each of the Thematic Districts. Khan calls them his “best work” yet, explaining how air and shadow play an important part in how the design runs with Islamic mashrabiya architecture to create remarkable gateways that will present different experiences depending on the time of day.

Once inside the site, visitors will navigate along a variety of tracks through 6km of concourse, with different materials used depending on the location and the type of movement expected.

Khan describes how 50 ‘script’ benches, a series of sculpted benches that each spell out a significant word in Arabic script, will “wrap the site like a poem”. The final designs were realised with the aid of Arabic typography expert Lara Captan. Each bench is influenced by its word – for example, ‘dream’ is designed to be made from hammocks.

THEMATIC DISTRICTS

The overlapping Venn diagram that forms Expo 2020’s site masterplan incorporates three ‘petals’ that comprise the Thematic Districts, connected to the aforementioned central Al Wasl Plaza. Each district reflects one of the three subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, anchored by a corresponding Thematic Pavilion, with the pavilions of the 192 participating countries split between the districts.

Subtle use of shapes and colours gives each district distinct characteristics: circles and green shades (Sustainability); triangles and blue (Mobility); squares and a warm sand colour (Opportunity). The shapes are abstract, but rooted in Islamic geometry.

British firm Hopkins and Partners is the brains behind the districts, inspired by Dubai’s historic Al Fahidi area, with façades resembling traditional Emirati wind towers and walkways lined with indigenous flora. Other innovative features include smart shading (evoking a palm grove oasis), solar cells and moisture-capturing mechanisms – all lending Expo a distinctly Middle Eastern feel. The Thematic Districts will also live on as part of District 2020. “It’s a fantastic feeling to be part of this event,” says Simon C Fraser, Hopkins’ Principal and Lead Designer. “We’ve created something to last and be developed and changed over years. It has been a great journey.”

MOBILITY PAVILION

The Mobility Pavilion’s eye-catching ribbed and curved shape was designed by Foster + Partners, the award-winning British architectural design and engineering firm led by acclaimed architect Norman Foster.

The pavilion’s dynamic form evokes the motion of mobility, with its contents exploring the movement of people, goods and services, capital, data, ideas and cultures.

Physical features include the world’s (joint) largest lift, which can accommodate more than 160 people, while a partly underground, partly open-air 340-metre track will allow visitors to see cutting-edge mobility devices in action.

SUSTAINABILITY PAVILION

Conceived by UK-founded Grimshaw Architects, the Sustainability Pavilion is designed to meet LEED Platinum green building standards – the highest available accreditation for sustainable architecture. Almost every element contributes to that status, from the 130-metre wide canopy featuring more than 1,055 solar panels, to the mini forest of ‘energy trees’ that rotate to face the sun. The building’s tech will produce four gigawatt hours per year of electricity – enough to charge more than 890,000 mobile phones.

Almost 10 tonnes of reclaimed wood will cover the pavilion auditorium walls, while the orientation of the funnel-shaped canopy will create air flows that naturally ventilate a courtyard, as well as letting in light, helping to reduce energy requirements. The pavilion sits partially below ground, ensuring it is cooler than the ambient temperature, while the canopy also creates vital shade. Repurposed as a Children and Science Centre post-Expo, the groundbreaking structure is set to continue as a beacon of sustainability for decades to come.

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