Expo 2020: UK Pavilion will show best of British all inside a giant horn

Poetry and the future of communication are central themes of the British hub

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The UK has a 170-year Expo heritage but its pavilion in Dubai promises to write a new chapter in history and is the nation’s first designed by a woman.

Creativity and poetry are at the heart of the building’s concept by British designer Es Devlin, which resembles a giant horn.

Visitors can view poems lit up in LEDs on an enormous facade every minute of the day.

Everyone is invited, and that is the Britain that I knew growing up, so there is common ground
Es Devlin, UK Pavilion designer

“Being the first woman to design a pavilion, I felt the extra weight of responsibility on my shoulders,” said Ms Devlin, 50.

“It is difficult to express your country inside a building or sculpture.

“Someone told me when I was growing up there is no such thing as society, just the individual. The opposite is true today and we are all collectives."

Everyone who steps into the building will become part of its creation, Ms Devlin said. The pavilion’s design has been five years in the making, with work commencing in October 2019.

Visitors to donate words

In a concept inspired by scientist Stephen Hawking, visitors to the UK pavilion will be invited to donate a word they feel describes humanity or life on Earth.

Advanced AI technology will use these words to generate poetic couplets that will combine to create a collective message. Ms Devlin has been working with AI experts in California for five years, to develop and train an algorithm to develop poetry.

The first word ‘dignity' has been entered by Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation and director general of Expo 2020.

More than 100 British poets have already contributed some 15,000 poems to the project.

“The horn is like a call to action, and invites everyone to gather within it," said Ms Devlin.

“The words of visitors will become part of a collective poem.”

The cone-shaped 20-metre pavilion has rows of protruding slats that extend outward to form the circular facade.

“As you enter visitors will hear a soundscape from voices from all across the UK, including choirs from Norwich and Bradford, and sea shanties from the coast," said Ms Devlin.

“Everyone is invited, and that is the Britain that I knew growing up, so there is common ground.”

Another theme of the UK pavilion is innovating for a shared future, connecting man, mind and machines.

The visitor journey will include a maze of aspiration, a choral space, a facade for displays and a restaurant and bar called 1851, named in recognition of London’s first Expo event.

A UK business programme from October 22 will take a look into the future by exploring everything from fashion, food, how we will live and learn and what we will create in the years to come.

The future of travel is another key topic in a week of events from November 9.

Speakers lined up over the coming months include former politician Dr Tristram Hunt, now director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, actor Robert Llewellyn, winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize Andria Zafirakou and president of AstraZeneca UK Tom Keith-Roach.

A number of state visits are also planned with leading politicians and ministers over the course of the next six months.


The Red Arrows aerobatic display team will represent the UK at Expo 2020 Dubai with a spectacular 20-minute display and fly-past to celebrate the first week of the event at 4pm on October 8.

The UK’s national day will be celebrated with a special show on February 10.

Expo is an amazing concept of the world in one place,” said commissioner general of the UK pavilion Laura Faulkner.

“We are reimagining relationships with the rest of the world in new trade agreements and partnerships with businesses and in education.

“It will be like staging a Davos every day and a Glastonbury every night.

“We hope the ripples started at Expo will be felt for many years to come.”

Britain's Royal Air Force aerobatic team the Red Arrows - in pictures

Updated: September 30, 2021, 10:07 AM