LDN Collective member  Tanisha Raffiuddin from Concept Culture reports on the highlights of her visit to Expo 2020 Dubai. Read on.

 

One of my personal goals is to travel to every country in the world (and Antarctica!), so you can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of visiting the ‘world in one place’ at Expo Dubai 2020. I began the new year exploring the Expo Dubai 2020 site, visiting a plethora of digital environments, and came back feeling energised and more connected with the world.

Expo 2020 Dubai is an immersive, sensorial experience and a journey that takes you on a whistle stop tour around the participating countries. Expo Dubai 2020 is the first World Expo to take place in the Middle East. For the first time in Expo history, all participating countries have pavilions – 192 to be exact. Sharing the stories of 192 countries in one site is a tall and ambitious order. But Expo 2020 Dubai took on the challenge and how. There is so much to see and do at the Expo, that you would struggle to fit it all in even in a week.

About the World Expo

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIES) – the governing body of internal exhibitions – describes the The World Expo as ‘a global gathering of nations dedicated to finding solutions to pressing challenges of our time by offering a journey inside a universal theme through engaging and immersive activities.’

The first World Expo – the Great Exhibition – took place in London in 1851. The Great Exhibition of 1851 is said to have been the most memorable and influential cultural event of the 19th century.  In the modern day, participants in World Expos, including governments, international organisations and companies, have gathered to find solutions to universal challenges and to promote their products, ideas, their national brand, and their nations as destinations for tourism, trade and investment.

The World Expo continues to be a celebration of human culture, creativity, achievement and innovation, encouraging dialogue across languages and cultures presenting roadmaps for change and aspirational visions of a collective future.

Inside the UAE pavilion by Santiago Calatrava

Masterplan

‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is the main theme for Expo 2020 Dubai, accompanied by the subthemes of ‘Opportunity,’ ‘Mobility’ and ‘Sustainability’. The main theme and sub themes are reflected within the masterplan which represents the UAE’s future outlook, while celebrating traditional Emirati culture and community. HOK, the lead designer for the master planning team that included Populous and Arup, created the 1,000 acre masterplan.

At the heart of the Expo site is the Al Wasl Plaza. ‘Al Wasl’ is the historic Arab name for Dubai meaning ‘the connection’. The plaza connects the three thematic districts of the site – Sustainability, Opportunity and Mobility – that pan out in petal shapes around the plaza. The surrounding country and partner pavilions are located within the thematic petals, hosting exhibitions following the district’s theme.

The Expo 2020 site map

Architecture

Without mincing words, the design of the Expo site is an architectural extravaganza of the who’s who of the design world that will leave even the most jaded of visitor wowed and impressed.

The Sustainability pavilion by Grimshaw takes the visitor on a journey of wonder, disruption, and ultimately hope. It invites the visitor to re-examine their relationship with nature and make a pledge to act. At the heart of the pavilion in it’s inner core is ‘Equinox’ – a permanent kinetic sculpture designed by British artist Mat Collishaw and curated by LDN Collective members, Futurecity.  Learn more about the story behind Equinox from Futurecity here,  and watch Equinox in action here.

The Mobility Pavilion by Foster + Partners has a stunning display of immersive digital and physical exhibits showcasing humankinds journey from travelling nomads on foot to outer space astronauts in rockets. The Opportunity pavilion by AGi Architects showcases changemakers from around the world who are creating real impact on the ground. Each country pavilion houses an exhibition which could be anything from a couple of exhibition panels and models, to larger than life 360 degree projections of dazzling scenes of virtual and augmented reality.

Equinox by artist Mat Collishaw, curated by Futurecity. Image: Danny Eid.

Culture

The architectural and engineering marvels on display are only one part of the Expo story. Curating the visitor experience at a World Expo has to be the ultimate exercise in storytelling and placemaking.

The Al Wasl Plaza is the cultural epicentre of the Expo 2020. The Al Wasl dome within the plaza, by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill is a gathering hub by day, and a 360 degree digital screen by night. Every evening, immersive digital show captivate visitors, evoking themes of joy, wonder and inspiration. I spent most evenings under the trellis dome after the pavilions closed. Watching the shows under the midnight sky after a long day of exploration was wonderfully relaxing.

The Expo visitor experience also comprises cultural programming by the national pavilions, Expo partners and other local stakeholders which include themed national days, daily shows, live performances, art, music, food, education and entertainment among other engaging offers for visitors. For culture-vultures like me, there is never a dull moment at the Expo, right from the moment the site opens until it closes at midnight.

Al Wasl Plaza at night

Sustainability and legacy

Sustainability is a core theme of Expo 2020 Dubai. You can find out how the sustainability strategy and practices have been aligned with global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with the economic, social and environmental impact of Expo 2020 here.

After the Expo ends on March 31st, the site will transition to ‘District 2020’, a large-scale, real-estate investment district. Around 80% of the built Expo is expected to transition into residential, business and commercial developments, with some of the thematic pavilions converted into permanent museums. The Expo’s commissioned works of art will also remain as permanent sculptures. District 2020’s ambition is to become a blueprint for future smart cities– watch this space.

Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion by Grimshaw. Image courtesy Expo 2020 Dubai.

The world in one place 

A World Expo is one of the largest global events you are likely to attend, and the Expo 2020 Dubai is absolutely worth a visit. It is an opportunity to learn, imagine the future, be inspired, and immerse oneself in the ultimate celebration of human achievement.

It was a joy to see people occupying the place, marvelling at architecture, interacting with the exhibits and artworks, while being part of a shared cultural experience – something we have missed dearly during the challenging times of the pandemic.

Learning about different cultures, exploring architectural marvels, meeting new people, tasting new cuisines, and discovering what makes each country unique is what makes visiting the World Expo a special, unique and memorable experience.

 

World Expo 2020 is taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, between 1 October 2021 and 31 March 2022. The next expo, Expo 2025 will be held in Osaka, Japan.

For those who are unable to travel, you can experience the expo from the comfort of your own home virtually –  visit virtualexpodubai.com .

Under the Al Wasl dome