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Solar-powered rain showers, a mountain covered with herbs, flooring made from fungi and curtains produced from corn – these are some of the marvels that await visitors at the Netherlands pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai.
As visitors travel through the pavilion, the sounds of a busy street in the Netherlands will ring out overhead.
On Tuesday, the country was among the first to open up its pavilion, which is in Expo's Sustainability district.
Growth in the desert
Michiel Raaphorst, founder and director at V8 Architects, said artists and designers worked together on this project to create solutions.
“This building is our message. It is proof we can harvest, grow food and make it rain in the desert,” he said.
“It shows how inspiration and solutions can come from outside your discipline. Imagine, the floor we are on is made from mushroom. And these ideas have come from artists and innovators who have integrated their solutions into the building.
“Relating and learning from all disciplines is what Expo is about.”
The pale-coloured floor tiles and wall panels in the pavilion's lounge are made from mycelium, a biodegradable fungus-based substance used in building material.
A pleated brown curtain separates the lounge on the upper level from the visitors' section of the pavilion.
The biodegradable curtain was produced using corn, sugar cane and cassava, a root vegetable.
The centrepiece of the pavilion is a towering 18-metre vertical farm covered with edible plants such as basil, mint and fennel.
“I’m really happy to see an idea we had more than three years ago now in the design of this building, both physically and mentally,” Mr Raaphorst said.
Re-purposing existing material
Architects and organisers said their building was proof that a circular economy was possible when using recycled material, leaving a lighter carbon footprint.
Steel sheet piles, pipes and tubes have been rented from Dubai’s construction industry and will be returned once the Expo ends in March next year.
Gravel and stones make up the flooring instead of concrete, so that it can be easily repurposed.
“We have used desert stones, rocks and gravel for temporary streets. These are used on building sites,” Mr Raaphorst said.
“Our legacy is that we will put it all back into the ground. There are more than 3,000 plants on the cone and we have selected them based on local conditions.”
Water pulled from the air
When visitors descend four meters to the bottom of the pavilion, the temperature drops noticeably and guests are handed umbrellas in a darkened space.
The white umbrellas turn into projection screens, illuminated with how the sustainable structure was created.
A burst of water falls from the top of the pavilion in a real-life illustration of how 800 litres can be generated every day out of desert air. These images of water being harvested will be released when the Expo opens next week.
Solar cells and panels in the skylight and roof provide electricity to power the process of capturing moisture from the atmosphere.
On the upper walls of the dimly lit cone interior, oyster mushrooms grow and thrive in the humid, cool and dark conditions.
Carel Richter, consul general of the Netherlands and commissioner general of the Expo, said his country was keen to work with the UAE and the region to boost food security.
“These are exciting elements,” he said.
“We have got a lot of out-of-the-box thinkers involved. We would love to work with the UAE and the region, with the cost of logistics going up and with food more scarce.
“It’s about sharing knowledge, pinpointing what the challenges are and having the dream and vision to work on it.”
“New companies and artists have been part of this journey. What we see now is how buildings can be designed.
“This can only happen because so many people believed and wanted to be part of this story.”
The six-month event opens on October 1.
Expo 2020 was postponed by a year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of countries and companies have built pavilions in three themed areas called Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. These are located in Expo's Dubai South site.