Expo City Dubai to celebrate Emirati heritage with major Cop28 transformation

Traditional architecture using dried palm leaves will decorate venue and highlight sustainability theme

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Expo City Dubai is undergoing a major makeover as it prepares to welcome thousands of global climate champions for Cop28.

The futuristic neighbourhood – which previously served as the vibrant venue for Expo 2020 Dubai – is being infused with age-old architectural designs to share the story of Emirati heritage with the world.

Sections of the sprawling site have been handed over to Cop28 organisers ahead of the crunch climate talks, which will run from November 30 to December 12.

The space is still open to visitors but some attractions will be shut off next month to prepare to receive 70,000 Cop28 participants, expo officials revealed.

Impressions do matter and we want every visitor – a blue zone delegate, someone from the general public or a 10-year-old child – everyone must have an enjoyable and memorable experience
Hend Al Mheiri, special projects director, Expo City Technology

Traditional arish building techniques in the UAE using palm leaves and fibre will be among striking motifs used across the Cop28 venue to reflect the host nation's message of resilience and sustainability.

“The minute you will enter, the city will no longer be as we know it,” Hend Al Mheiri, director of special projects at Expo City Technology, told The National in an interview.

“At the moment, the city is undergoing major, major preparations in many areas.

“But given the nature of this event and to keep it interesting, any person visiting Expo City Dubai today will not be able to see much because it’s all covered.

“We are trying to keep the excitement until the event time.”

Where are the blue and green zones?

Airport-style security that was in place at Expo 2020 will be brought back for the global climate action summit that will have world leaders in attendance.

“It will be a secure site so everyone stepping into the blue or green zones will have to go through security checks and screening.

“The entry points will be similar to what we had during Expo 2020, with three gates open at the Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity areas," Ms Al Mheiri said, referring to the central segments.

Divided into two main sections, the Cop28 blue zone will be managed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where access is restricted to accredited observers, heads of state and the media.

The green zone is open to the public and will be managed by the Cop28 UAE presidency.

“We handed over different venues on September 11 to the OSECC team, which is the Office of the UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Cop28,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

The spacious Dubai Exhibition and Convention Centre will be a central Cop28 venue, with access restricted to blue zone delegates.

The Rove hotel, some areas near the Expo’s Mobility site and a section of the Opportunity site are also in the blue zone.

The dome-shaped Al Wasl Plaza, Surreal, a dramatic waterfall built for Expo 2020 and pavilions such as the falcon-winged UAE structure are in the green zone and open to all.

During Cop28, the UAE pavilion will be given a different name and double as a cultural centre.

Terra, or the disc-shaped Sustainability pavilion, and Alif, the stainless steel ribbed Mobility pavilion, will also be open to the public in the green zone.

A few other structures that served as national pavilions during Expo will be used for Cop28 events.

Public access to Terra, Alif, Vision, the Women’s pavilion, Stories of Nations and Latifa’s playground will be closed from November 18 to November 29 to incorporate changes for Cop.

The revolving Garden in the Sky that provided a bird’s-eye view of the site and a space called Rashid’s playground will shut down from October 1 until mid-December and will not be accessible during the summit.

Within the blue zone, new pop-up structures are being built that will serve as the Cop28 country pavilions.

Traditional design

To separate both zones, an ‘inner edge’ is being set up where the metal fencing will be blanketed with colourful visuals of UAE culture.

There will be two access spots where accredited Cop28 delegates can move between the blue and green zones.

Planners have worked with the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation to showcase the country’s sustainable history.

The arish architecture dates back 7,000 years to when dried palm leaves and ropes made from trunk fibres were used to build houses, roofs and screens.

This traditional design element will demarcate the zones and beautify the site.

“This inner edge will be very pretty, with hoardings with beautiful designs and key messages about Emirati heritage,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

“Instead of throwing away dried palm leaves, we will be using it to build the inner edge.”

Planners want to keep engagement levels high for all Cop28 participants.

“The challenging goal is to ensure visitors have the same level of experience across the two zones that have to connect, be unified in the look, feel and guest experience,” she said.

“Impressions do matter and we want every visitor – it does not matter if it is a blue zone delegate, someone from the general public or a 10-year-old child – everyone must have an enjoyable and memorable experience.”

Parking and buggies

Parking spaces for families will be closer to the arrival plazas.

For the convenience of families and older guests visiting the green zones, buggies will be provided in parking zones that are more than a five-minute walk from the entrance.

Wheelchairs and pushchairs will be available.

Organisers have recommended using the Metro to reach the site.

It has been a fascinating experience for the team to handle the transition to Cop28.

“We are very excited and are working day and night happily,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

“It’s a great honour to work on such a project and for Expo City Dubai to be the venue for Cop28, which is an international milestone moment for the world.”

Updated: September 29, 2023, 3:23 AM