Design for UK pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai revealed

Designed by Es Devlin, the pavilion will display a poem created by the millions of visitors to the expo

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An ever-changing poem, created by the millions of visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai, will beam out from the UK pavilion, transcending boundaries and inviting people of all walks of life to take part.

Each illuminated word, that can be entered by a visitor, will sheath the timber-lined exterior of an impressive pavilion that will take the shape of a conch shell.

Created by UK designer Es Devlin, the pavilion fuses poetry, geometry, visual effects with small LED screens and solar panels that will shade a labyrinth within. Its design was revealed on Thursday.

The 20-metre high facade will stretch across 52m and will fan out over an exhibition area beneath the splintered cone.

Ms Devlin, who designed the closing ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 and the opening celebrations of the Rio Games, is known for creating stunning large-scale public sculptures including an interactive fluorescent red Fifth Lion sculpture installed in Trafalgar Square last week during the London Design Festival.

A rendering of the UK pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Courtesy of the UK’s Department for International Trade © Es Devlin

She was invited to participate in the UK competition to find a winning expo pavilion design.

"To me, the design feels a bit like a musical instrument, Ms Devlin told The National. "It will contain the voices of we hope 25 million visitors to the expo. The idea behind it is that every visitor to the expo can donate one word and by the end we hope to have a message that is collective and has been sourced from every single visitor. Hopefully, it will transcend national identities and using artificial intelligence generate a collective poem."

The UK designer is no stranger to the big stage and also conceptualises touring stage sculptures for performers and artists such as U2, Pet Shop Boys, Beyonce, Kanye West, Adele, The Royal Opera House and The National Theatre.

“The circular facade will be covered in glimmering text made up of small pieces of video screen. If you were to turn up, you would type your word in and it would be contributed in text to the video screen,” she said.

Ms Devlin created the design for the pavilion, along with 12 colleagues, over the course of five months.

“Once I got wind of what it [the contest] was about I became completely hooked and my studio got hooked as well,” she said, after a visit to the expo site in Dubai South.

“I have made various sculptural touring pieces of architecture but never one that sits in one place for so long and will be inhabited by such a diverse number of people,” she said.

A rendering of the UK pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Courtesy UK’s Department for International Trade © Es Devlin

Her creations use technology and algorithms along with music and video projections.

The interactive pavilion allows expo visitors to submit words that will be illuminated from the sculpture in English, Arabic and Chinese with a plan to add more languages.

Describing the concept as the merging of the ancient and futuristic, Ms Devlin said the structure resembled a conch shell to call people to action.

“We will use a sustainable material called cross laminated timber that has properties that are warm and will juxtapose this with solar panels to shade the walkways,” she said.

The message she aims to send out is about reaching beyond boundaries and rising past confines.

“I want people to transcend national identities and work together as a community in the expo as 25 million gather around this in 2020,” Ms Devlin said.


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“The idea draws directly on one of [physicist] Stephen Hawking’s final projects, ‘Breakthrough Message’, a global competition that Hawking and his colleagues conceived in 2015 inviting people worldwide to consider what message we would communicate to express ourselves as a planet, should we one day encounter other advanced civilisations in Space.”

The pavilion will be produced by Avantgarde, an agency with offices in London and Dubai.

Najeeb Al Ali, executive director of Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau, said the pavilion was intriguing.

“We look forward to seeing more compelling pavilion designs and themes revealed by other participating nations as we continue our countdown to Expo 2020,” he said.