When I was a kid my parents decided us 3 would go to the World Fair Expo ’84 in Vancouver. I loved travelling with my parents, but I felt the Expo was like a giant marketing event with each country trying to out-impress the other. The event didn’t really move me on the inside: Moving sidewalks, Egyptian relics imported. Video displays selling shiny images for each country, as they stand alone looking to the future. It felt something like pain and boredom together.
Despite Covid-19, Expo 2020 set for Dubai this year will be postponed to October 2021, the most popular city to travel to in the United Arab Emirates. The theme will be “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” and will be based on mobility, sustainability and opportunity, with pavilions for each subject designed by starchitect firms Foster + Partners, Grimshaw Architects and AGi Architects. The UAE National Pavilion was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Remember when we wrote about the solar panel pavilion covers in 2014? Now it’s becoming real, despite Covid setbacks.
The emirate has high hopes for the Expo next year as it shows itself off a center for innovation and leading “progress” in the Arab world. Its decision to host IRENA, the international energy consortia for renewable energy a decade ago, and last month announcing formal peace ties with the cleantech superpower Israel means plenty of new opportunities in solar energy, desalination and desert agriculture are in store for the UAE and region.
The Sustainability pavilion will show off technology and stories of the way we understand nature today.
Dubai was awarded the Expo in 2013, and since then billions of dollars have been spent to develop it. After the Expo is over the 1,000 acre site will be repurposed with 80% of its infrastructure expected for reuse as a mixed commercial and residential development called District 2020.
We do hope it’s not all talk and a show show though like the Zero Carbon megacity Masdar not far from Abu Dhabi that was built more than a decade ago and which never lived up to its promise.
The Sustainability Pavilion, one of 3 pavilions, is designed by Grimshaw Architects in the UK, features “energy trees” that rotate with the sun to capture solar energy. We’ve seen versions of this kind of design in quite a few places to be honest, including in Dubai (2015) itself and also by Israeli designers (2014) who made a much less design-savvy-version of the trees.
Grimshaw promo video for the pavilion:
Who will make the journey to the Dubai sustainability pavilion next year is anyone’s guess. We expect there to be surprises from the countries that want to show off how they see the future. But how about looking back?
How about desert windcatchers (like the ones from Yazd)? The passive no-tech nature of mashrabiya? Or saltwater agriculture from Qatar? Did you know there are ancient irrigation systems called aflaj throughout the Middle East?
While it’s not clear how many people will be able to make the journey to the Expo next year, Dubai and United Arab Emirates are open for tourists.
“We hope that people will join us to achieve our objectives to bring the world together and put humanity and the planet on the right path towards dignity for all,” said director general of Expo 2020 Dubai and UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem Al Hashimy, who added more details about the Expo would be shared in the coming weeks.
Dubai has been planning this World Expo for more than 5 years. They deserve to host it and we hope to report on more sustainability ideas on a country basis as the year progresses.