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Three weeks into Expo 2020 Dubai and a unique water feature that helps the public to escape the heat is one of the biggest attractions.
Visitors are stopping off to dip their feet in the waterfall that crashes to the ground before disappearing into the stone. The water also dances to music as people frolic in the tumbling stream below.
The gravity-defying illusion is switched on at night, as the water appears to flow upward and the stone is coloured with rainbow streaks.
The experience is set against a backdrop of specially written music. A live orchestra in London recorded the original score by well-known Game of Thrones music composer and two-time Emmy award winner, Ramin Djawadi.
Located between Al Wasl Plaza and Jubilee Park, three viewing platforms overlook a lower plaza area that is about the size of half a football field. The space is usually filled with excited visitors slipping off their shoes as they try to climb the four-storey high stone walls.
At the centre of the ring is a spiral sculpture that spews fire at night.
The water feature that dances to music was specially created for the World's Fair in Dubai by the same company that brought us the famous fountains at the Burj Khalifa and the Bellagio.
The team at WET in Los Angeles decided it was time to make magic happen again and started working on the project for Expo 2020 Dubai three years ago.
The National spoke to Mark Fuller, founder and chief executive of WET, about the journey from sketches and giant mock-ups in an LA studio to finally building the towering rock walls in Dubai.
Testing laboratory like a movie studio
Mr Fuller’s team built mock-ups at the company’s research and testing laboratory in California. In a set resembling a movie studio, massive pumps were rented and engineers and architects worked together to send thousands of gallons of water down the towering walls.
“I thought; suppose we created a place on earth that had a touch of magic to it?” he said. “If you see this after dark, you see massive waves come down, you see them pause, and see them pull back."
The team at WET felt that the essence of the new installation had to be that people felt they were part of it. When discussing concepts with the Expo team, originally the idea was for a leafy shaded area, however soon they settled on the theme of water.
Reem Al Hashimy, director general of Expo 2020 Dubai, suggested a place where people could relax and feel a touch of nature.
“I think we all knew that this place was destined to be something special," said Mr Fuller. "So we conceived the idea that it could be a place that even with all the technology around, people can re-engage with perhaps the most fundamental element of life.”
“We thought how could we express the inherent power of water but also its inherent charm, its playfulness, so little kids can play in the water.”
Can you walk and play in it?
“Yes, they [visitors] can walk up. We have made that area strong enough,” Fuller said. “We have made the stones porous at the bottom so you think the wave is going to rush at you and then it disappears at your feet as you look down.”
Unlike the famous Bellagio fountains that twist and pirouette in the lake in front of the Las Vegas hotel, Fuller wanted to draw the audience in.
“For reasons of safety at Bellagio, we had to have a balustrade to keep people away, so it’s at a distance,” he said.
“After everyone is gone, when we are working we can go in a rubber boat in the middle of Bellagio when it’s going up and it just thrills you. We wanted to bring that thrill to everyone and bring it close to them.”
How the fountain works
The mechanics create an illusion that the water is shooting in reverse from the sides as it rises above the visitor’s heads and drops to their feet. Hi-tech computers control the speed and movement with which the water is released in quick bursts or a smooth flow.
Thousands of gallons of water are sustainably recycled. The company says the installation is eco-friendly as it wastes no water aside from what evaporates during the show.
“We very rapidly take an amount of water and we spill it over the edge and there are 151 [waves] that go around the edge so it’s a bit like keys on a circular piano,” Fuller said.
“We pour water over the edge and we can do it quickly or slowly much like the vocals of a singer.”
'Game of Thrones' composer creates the soundtrack
The soundtrack was created by Djawadi, the musician who wrote the score for Game of Thrones and several Hollywood films including Iron Man.
Musical fountains across the world are usually choreographed to existing music. This time, the water choreography was created simultaneously with the composition.
Fuller, a fan of Game of Thrones, asked Djawadi to work with his team so the water display was devised alongside the soundtrack.
The music was recorded about a month ago in London with a 50-strong orchestra, 30-member choir and a number of soloists. The nine pieces in an album called Surreal can be bought on iTunes or downloaded on Spotify.
“I love this theme because when you close your eyes and hear the composition, you can hear the sound of water tumbling down and in a few seconds the sound of music joins the fury of nature,” said Fuller.