Dubai's Expo 2020 vision is continuing to take shape - with preparations being stepped up in a bid to get the main construction work on the mammoth project complete a year early.
About 40,000 workers will be on site from next year, with a focus on keeping to the tight schedule for Expo 2020 Dubai, a six-month-long world fair kicking off in two years' time - on October 20, 2020.
In the Dubai South expo construction area, the winged steel-gold canopy of the distinctive main terminal station is being put in place and the graceful arches are clearly visible amid high mounds of sand and mud.
Read more: All you need to know about Dubai Expo 2020
Workers in hard hats mill around below the metro terminal’s ribbed frame that forms the main approach to the sprawling world fair zone that covers 4.38 square kilometres, equal to about 600 football pitches.
Keeping this rapid progress on track is a daily challenge for the expo team.
“The projects on the expo site are heading towards the peak,” said Ahmed Al Khatib, senior vice president for real estate and delivery at Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Every corner that we drive around, we remember the debates we had and the type of challenges we faced.
“This has now turned to actual reality from plans of paper. It’s a very exciting time.”
The metro bridge inside the expo site has been completed while work has reached the halfway stage on the five elevated and two underground stations that will be part of the extended new Route 2020.
Directly across from the metro terminal, intense work is underway to construct the domed steel trellis of the expo centrepiece, the Al Wasl Plaza.
With its 360-degree translucent dome onto which images will be beamed at night, the plaza promises to be an architectural landmark.
The largest single structure within the 2 square kilometre gated area, Al Wasl has one of the favourite spots of officials involved in the project since the planning stage.
“It’s an exceptional space. Al Wasl is the heart of the expo and a place we kept challenging ourselves about. Like its meaning, it connects the three petals of the themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity,” Mr Al Khatib said.
“This will also be the first venue that visitors walking from the metro gate will reach.”
Near the central hub of Al Wasl - meaning ‘connection’ in Arabic - steel and concrete structures are taking shape that will house the pavilions of various countries.
About 180 countries are expected to take part in the first expo in history where each participating nation will have its own pavilion.
As part of the fast-paced building work, two 750-tonne cranes are scheduled to arrive in the first half of next year.
With about 26,000 workers already on site, no chances are being taken on safety with 24-hour fire and police stations the first to be completed by the end of the month.
“We must prepare for any emergency. The ambulance and fire stations are important so that even during the construction stage, the response time will be very quick,” said Mr Al Khatib.
While specific figures are not available for the different phases of construction, Dh25 billion is the overall budget for the world fair.
Dubai Expo 2020:
Infrastructure work has already been completed on deep utilities, sewage, storm water, electricity sub stations, cabling, water lines, telecommunication and roads.
The foundation and structural work are complete in the three theme districts at the core of the expo.
The Sustainability Pavilion will incorporate innovations to harvest solar power and capture moisture from the air. It will remain as a children and science centre.
A powerful example of a structure made entirely from organic and recyclable material will be the concrete-free Opportunity Pavilion, with a spiral canopy made from 111 kilometres of woven rope.
A 320-metre track loping around the Mobility Pavilion will showcase cutting-edge devices and allow visitors to see technology in action
Once the expo ends, there are future plans for about 80 per cent of the built structures to be part of District 2020, that will include residences, commercial space, a conference and exhibition centre, while the striking designs of the Al Wasl Plaza and the Mobility Pavilion will also remain as permanent fixtures.
“This is such a massive and complex project that it’s important all programmes and activities are interlinked,” Mr Al Khatib said.
“The sub stations are fully energised and ready to provide power. As the expo approaches in two years, our focus is more on closing existing projects.”
The countdown has now begun and residents are being asked to join in the celebrations.
To the sound of drumbeats and a ticking clock, Expo2020 Dubai on an Instagram post called people to head to the Burj Park in Downtown Dubai on Saturday, October 20 between 5 to 10pm for a specially choreographed show at The Dubai Fountain and a countdown display on the Burj Khalifa.