Dubai’s Expo 2020, which opened in early October, has concentrated the best of architecture and design from around the world. After the interruption of preparations last year due to the lockdown, the universal exhibition was opened with a ceremony last September 30 that saw the public intervention of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktum and an international concert that included Andrea Bocelli, Andra Day and the Chinese pianist Lang Lang, among others. To comply with the four-year cadence, the year of the event remained 2020 and was not updated. Spread over an area of 438 hectares, just under 4 and a half square kilometers, between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the general project was signed by the American studio HOK and has a central square called Al Wasl from which three macro-areas each dedicated to the three themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability branch off. In addition to the pavilions of each country, there are about twenty of them installed by national organizations, partners of the Expo itself and dedicated to special projects.
Bian Pavilion was designed by the BMA studio and is the largest in the entire Expo – as well as the most high-tech. With its cantilevered structure, the structure seems to emerge diagonally from the garden that surrounds it and has an audiovisual system integrated into the external facades and the floor of the square below on which images flow, optical illusions are created and also scenic settings are created for presentations and events. The glass façade doubles as a canopy, keeping visitors in the shade in line for entry. When the integrated screens are turned off during the day the façade becomes a monumental mirror that reflects the entire square. At the intended the exhibition is organized as a hyper-immersive digital journey into the history and culture of Saudi Arabia.
Officially called Terra, the permanent pavilion dedicated to the macro-theme of sustainability was designed and built by the English architecture firm Grimshaw. It is a self-sustaining structure capable of generating energy and collecting water. Inside, Terra contains 6,000 square meters of exhibition spaces covered by earth roofs and shaded by a giant suspended dome similar to the branches of the Ghaf or Loong Tree, which is the national plant of the UAE, made of 97% recycled steel and covered with over 1,055 solar panels that, along with the other eighteen structures below, they are capable of producing 4 gigawatts of electricity in a year. All facilities are also capable of collecting rainwater and dew which is then filtered and recycled through the surrounding garden.
The Mobility Pavilion, called Alif (from the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) has a curved rib structure designed to evoke movement. The entire building is clad in highly reflective stainless steel that reflects the entire surrounding landscape making the surface of the structure seem alive. There is also an amphitheater and a stage in the square around the pavilion that will host events and public events such as symposia and talks. Internally, the tripartition of the building corresponds to three exhibition areas. The entrance is in the center and is equipped with the largest elevator in the world, able to hold more than 160 people, which takes visitors to the third floor from which you then descend through the various galleries to the basement. The entire structure is also completely sustainable, able to cool down by reflecting light and generating energy with solar panels.
The Italian Pavilion was designed by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and Italo Rota Building Office, together with Matteo Gatto and F&M Ingegneria. The focus of the project was the circular economy, in line with the theme assigned to the country, and implemented a reconfigurable architecture concept. Orange peels, coffee, algae and sand were the materials used in the construction of the structure that resembles a desert tent, bordered by a monumental curtain made of recycled plastic ropes and with a curved roof created from boat hulls for the roof. The interior is a large open space, decorated with large pools of water and vertical gardens with exhibition paths inside and also areas equipped to host meetings and conferences.
Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, the famed collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age and also a seminal piece of literature in Persian culture, Iran’s pavilion, designed by Iranian architectural firm Shift Process Practice, consists of several spatial pockets in a field instead of a monolithic building, each functioning as an agent to provide a part of Iran’s contemporary history. Each structural pocket consists of a blue box that is then wrapped in a curtain of bronze-colored beads—a metaphor telling of the contrast between the heavens and the earth. Rather than a solid structure, Iran’s pavilion is a rhizomatic network of connections offering different narratives of contemporary Iranian history. Yet the narrative is ambiguous, in some ways like the tumultuous history of the country itself. It is contingent upon the specific path the visitor decides to take that will reflect its own version of Iran’s modern-day history.
The British pavilion conceived by the artist and stage designer Esmeralda “Es” Devlin is a monumental wooden sculpture on whose front façade flows a continuous poetry generated by an AI that creates the flow of words by mixing and recombining the inputs inserted by the visitors at the entrance. The structure is designed to emphasize the growing importance of algorithms in our society but also the multiculturalism of the United Kingdom, symbolized by the union of different words. Inside, there is also a soundscape created by the traditional choirs of the various ethnic groups living in the country.