Expo 2020’s Sustainability Pavilion inspired by UAE’s natural environment

Designers, architects and expo officials told an audience at the World Future Energy Summit conference on Wednesday how the legacy of the World Fair can encourage youth in the Emirates and overseas to care for the planet.

Visitors look at the Expo 2020 Dubai Project during the WFES summit in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National
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ABU DHABI // Exhibits of coral reefs, mangroves, oases and “energy trees” of solar panels will show visitors to Expo 2020 how the UAE’s natural environment can inspire ideas for sustainability.

Designers, architects and Expo officials told an audience at the World Future Energy Summit conference on Wednesday how the legacy of the world fair can inspire youth in the Emirates and overseas to care for their planet.

The design of the Sustainability Pavilion, described as a key attraction at the centre of the 4.38 square kilometres expo site in Dubai South, was revealed at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

Detailed models showed solar panels enveloping the roof of the large pavilion and lining dozens of tall columns modelled as “energy trees”.

The pavilion will harvest energy sufficient to power 300 to 400 homes for a year, capture and generate water from waste, groundwater and the atmosphere.

“We wanted the building to be a demonstration of what can be achieved in extreme temperatures with high humidity, yet (with) scarcity of water at the same time. The task was to design a building that is energy and water neutral so it produces as much as it consumes,” said Matthew Utley, founding principal of Grimshaw Architects.

The UK-based firm won an international bidding process to build the Sustainability Pavilion, along with US design company Thinc and engineers from BuroHappold.

With plans to capture much of the pavilion’s energy and water needs from the Sun and humid air, the building will be one of the world’s first large-scale applications of such technology.

Architects explained how they were inspired by the process of photosynthesis that nourishes plants.

“The solar panels will be laid across the canopy which for relative size is about the size of the Aldar headquarters if you were to turn it on its side,” Mr Utley said.

“Through solar panels on the canopy and panels on the energy trees spread throughout the site, we are looking to produce 3.4 gigawatts of renewable energy per year which is roughly enough to power 300 to 400 homes a year. All this combined makes a very interesting piece of architecture and technology. This is the first time a lot of the technology will be used to this scale.”

The theme of concentration of life will be woven into the fabric of the pavilion by planners.

Tom Hennes, principal at Thinc Design, said the oasis, so rooted in the UAE’s culture, was a central metaphor.

“The oasis is a very powerful concept. So we’re going to take people on a journey that will show how generations have lived in the UAE and use that as a springboard to show what the future looks like and also how other people live in similar environments by bringing exciting case studies from around the world.

“We will do this through an immersive digital environment but also through living exhibits of coral reefs and mangroves that show how these systems are really like oases in the ocean.”

Feedback from youth has been crucial for legacy planning afterwards, said Marjan Faraidooni, vice president of the Expo’s legacy impact and development.

“As a national project we want to leave a strong social impact on youth engagement. We wanted the Sustainability Pavilion to have experiences that will inspire visitors to take care of the planet and share the responsibility we have as a community. We would like them to come out empowered, to feel they are the change makers.”