Dubai is shrewdly using Expo 2020 to invest in future infrastructure

Dubai's decision to build permanent structures on the Expo 2020 site, rather than temporary, goes against the current trend followed by many large-scale event organisers.

Edward Gallagher, the business development director of De Boer, says countries are being steered towards the principle that ‘if you don’t need it, then do not build it permanently’. Satish Kumar / The National
Powered by automated translation

Dubai Expo 2020 has made clear its commitment to build permanent infrastructure within the 160,000 square metre site. In Dubai’s 2016 budget, announced in December, the emirate increased its provision for infrastructure, transport and economics to Dh16.6 billion, a rise of Dh1.8bn from last year, to help finance this. Here, Edward Gallagher, the business development director of De Boer – a global leader in building high-end, non-permanent structures for some of the world’s biggest events – reveals more about the temporary versus permanent debate for large-scale international showcases.

What do you think of Dubai's Expo decision to make the infrastructure permanent?

It’s always exciting to hear more news about Expo 2020 and we all know Dubai will put on a spectacular show. What makes the difference on this occasion is that Dubai is a growing emirate which is shrewdly using the event to invest in infrastructure that will be used by the city as it continues to advance and expand. The three winning designs for Dubai Expo 2020 structures that were subsequently announced and awarded to leading architects look stunning and will no doubt be fantastic additions to the futuristic buildings already in place around the city. With the vision and future growth of Dubai and the UAE assured, it is unlikely those structures will lie empty and gather dust after the event. This has happened in the past after Expos and other similar mega-events, and remains a real risk for other countries looking to become future hosts.

What can be done to ensure these risks are mitigated?

If you look to the guidance from Expo organisers, Bureau International des Expositions, potential host countries must follow several steps to ensure permanent elements can be revitalising for an area. A team must also be in place to guarantee management of the post-Expo plan. There are similar conditions in place from other major international events, such as the Olympic Committee and Fifa. Harsh lessons have been learnt and countries are being steered towards the principle that “if you don’t need it, then do not build it permanently”. In recent history, the negative impact to countries such as Greece, China and Brazil of building facilities for international events at astronomical cost, only to leave behind decaying stadiums, is something everyone now wants to avoid. At the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, more than $10bn was spent on infrastructure and now most of those venues are abandoned and crumbling. Beijing suffered from similar problems after the 2008 Olympic Games. China’s capital now has a $55 million rowing park in disuse, empty cycling tracks covered in weeds and the centrepiece Bird’s Nest national stadium is struggling to fill its events calendar.

What has been learnt from the world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympic Games?

Central to the cure in the IOC’s recent call for change is the principle of “maximum use of existing facilities and the use of temporary and demountable venues”. While it has long been standard practice to use temporary infrastructure for hospitality and back-of-house facilities, the systems and technologies available now mean whole stadiums can be built from more cost-effective modular systems, which are removed and reused after the event, resulting in no ongoing costs. At the London 2012 Olympics, considered to be a fantastic success for the event and its legacy planning, just eight of the 34 venues were newly built. All the others were existing or temporary structures.

What permanent structures built for major events have been a success?

There can be no greater physical embodiment of a World Expo legacy than the Eiffel Tower. It was the Exposition Universale of 1889 that gave Gustave Eiffel the opportunity to design his temporary structure. More than 100 years later it still commands the Parisian skyline. London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 also left a lasting architectural gem in the spectacular Crystal Palace alongside other cultural institutions along Exhibition Road in South Kensington, an area that has become a tourist trap in itself, nicknamed Albertopolis, after Queen Victoria’s husband. More recently and hot on the heels of the Beijing Olympics, Shanghai’s 2010 Expo was the biggest in history, spread across an area five times the size of Milan’s 2015 Expo, at a cost of $50bn. The Chinese pavilion has since been converted into a fantastic art museum.

Why did Qatar not commit to the permanent structure path for the 2022 World Cup?

It appears there is not the ongoing requirement in Qatar as there is in Dubai for the same volume of permanent stadiums, infrastructure and facilities. This worked in Qatar’s favour, as its mixed temporary-permanent approach was cited by Fifa as one of the key success factors its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has eight new stadiums planned, reduced from the initial 12. Six are being built and upgrades to two existing stadiums are also under way. The ambitious 40,000-seat Qatar Foundation stadium, which will be fully demountable, is being redesigned and may go out to re-tender soon. Qatar’s Supreme Committee has also been busy planning a host of temporary facilities, including accommodation, medical centres, hospitality and fan zones.

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter