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  /  Sustainable Urbanism   /  Expo Walk

Expo Walk


Yesterday proved to be the hottest day of the year so far in Dubai as the RIBA Gulf Chapter met with 30 eager participants at the Central Plaza to tour Dubai Expo’s Thematic districts and several its’ iconic pavilions.

The group were hosted by leading designers and constructors who discussed the key design inspirations, challenges and achievements that were accomplished in the delivery of the LEED Platinum and Gold schemes that were incorporated into the Worlds’ Fair, and which will evolve into “Dubai District 2020”. The contemporary, smart, and sustainable city that will form a lasting legacy to the success of this outstanding global event.

We kicked off with Hopkins Architects’ – ‘Thematic Districts’, which comprises 87 permanent buildings spread over three separate ‘petals’, housing 136 pavilions of Expo’s 192 participating countries, and reflecting the three main Expo themes of Mobility, Opportunity, and Sustainability. The shading afforded by the canopied lightweight metal structures were inspired by shape of the date palm and offered much welcomed respite from the harsh sun above.

First Stop was at the UK Pavilion in Opportunity District designed by Es Devlin Studio to highlight artificial intelligence and the space sector. The experience was inspired by a project from UK scientist Stephen Hawking and offers a continuously changing façade generated by a collective message of its visitors’ contributions.

On to the Japanese Pavilion by Yuko Nagayama / NTT Facilities, with its’ geometrical 3D lattice environmental filter to protect the glazed envelope, represented the traditional paper arts of Origami and Origata gift wrapping. Standing away from the building we were able to gather under the Expo’s shaded walkway, and to admire the pavilions’ reflection in the pool located in its’ foreground, which offers evaporative cooling to the buildings’ façade.

Next was a much-welcomed visit to the Swiss Pavilion designed by OOS, where we were brandished with red parasols to shade us whilst we gathered outside to hear the design innovation and challenges, and then as we approached the entrance, we created an ever moving dynamically changing scene in the ‘Reflections’ presented on the building’s interactive mirrored façade. We were ushered inside and gratefully were immersed in a cooling sea of fog as we flowed through the exhibitions in near total darkness.

Onwards to the Netherlands Pavilion designed by V8 Architects, where we discovered a miniature world where a circular climate system harvests water, energy, manufactures rain and produces food, creating a temporary biotope that embodies the fusion between art, architecture, and technology. Due to the brief for a sustainable pavilion with a limited life-span and minimal footprint, this was designed and built according to circular principles. A conscious decision was made to incorporate as many reusable, recyclable and compostable materials as possible. A radical construction method was applied by renting materials available in Dubai such as the 18m sheet piles and tubes, and many finishing elements which have since been returned for reuse within the local construction industry.

Internally a large cone is the main element of the exhibit- a vertical farm covered in edible plants on the outside and mushrooms on the inside. The chimney-like structure helps regulate temperature and moisture inside the cone. Water is harvested from air humidity and used for plant irrigation, with the pavilion extracting 800 litres of water daily. 
The process is powered by renewable energy obtained through lightweight, organic transparent solar cells or OPV designed by artist Marjan van Aubel.

Enormous thanks to everyone who offered their time and expertise to detail the tremendous work that went into the design and construction of Expo 2020, Dubai, and to all who joined us for this exceptional tour.

Tags #Dubaiexpo2020, #ribagulfchapter, #hopkinsarchitects, #esdevlinstudio, #yukonagayama, #v8architects, #oos,

Sandra Woodall

This blog was created by tangram’s Design Director and founder of tangramTERRA Ms Sandra Woodall, a passionate environmentalist, architect, urbanist, researcher, pre-covid travelholic and baker of vegan treats. She is a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), and the Academy of Urbanism (AoU). Sandra is an award-winning designer who leads our MENA region studio who were recognised as the “2019 MENA Architecture Firm of the Year” by the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), and who have received accolades including six international sustainable design awards for five different projects in four years. She is the RIBA Regional Ambassador for Sustainability, promoting and developing UK design and management skills across the MENA region, and is the UAE country representative on the RIBA Gulf Chapter. She founded, curates and presents the Chapters’ ongoing “Sustainable Development Series” to share awareness, knowledge, skills, tools and best practice with built environment professionals across the GCC and to showcase projects, methods, procedures and strategies to empower and equip us all to meet the challenges faced in delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals across the region.


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