“We are ready to welcome the world”
By Jim Ogul
Expo 2020 Dubai, a world expo (aka world’s fair or international exposition) sanctioned by the Bureau international des Expositions (BIE) was originally scheduled to open in October 2020, but the worldwide pandemic forced a one-year delay. While retaining its original “2020” title, the six-month event is now set to run October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. It is the first world expo ever hosted in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. The expo theme is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” with the sub-themes, “Opportunity,” “Mobility” and “Sustainability.”
Meanwhile, the expo organizers and participants – including 192 countries, as well as a variety of multilateral organizations, businesses and educational institutions – have been continuing to complete their pavilions and exhibitions. Much of the onsite construction work is done, and some of the theme areas have been functioning and receiving visitors. In keeping with the sustainability sub-theme, according to organizers 80% of Expo-built buildings and structures will be repurposed as a mixed-use community called District 2020. The intent of this legacy post-use plan is described as “a connected global center for the next generation of innovators, original thinkers and pioneers for generations to come.”
The 4.38 sq km site is located in the Dubai South district, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Dubai. It is served by its own metro station and is close to Al Maktoum International Airport and also within reach of Dubai International Airport, Abu Dhabi International Airport and Dubai and Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminals.
While the Expo proper has yet to officially commence, the event organizers have found ways to bring Expo 2020 Dubai to life in the public mind and eye for years and months ahead of opening day.
Rolled out in early 2017, “Expo Live” has so far funded 140 global innovators with grants to accelerate and promote creative projects aimed at improving lives while preserving the planet. The innovators were selected from over 11,000 proposals submitted by individual entrepreneurs, SMEs [small and midsize enterprises] not-for-profit organizations, and government-related entities. Grants ranged up to $100,000 and selected projects will be showcased in the Expo Live Pavilion onsite. Expo Live has also made awards to 46 grantees involving 19 universities to foster creative thinking and collaboration between university students to solve problems relevant to the UAE and the region.
Over the past months, the expo has already welcomed thousands of people onsite for free bus tours to see the work in progress via the “World’s Greatest Show in the Making Tour.”
The centerpiece of the site, Al Wasl dome, is complete and has already provided visual spectacle to the region. Its state-of-the-art projection system, provided by Christie, the official projection partner of the expo, enables the dome to graphically transform. Recently it was illuminated in red to celebrate the UAE’s Hope Probe reaching Mars orbit in February 2021.
Already attaining the status of an iconic building for Expo 2020 Dubai is “Terra,” the Sustainability Pavilion designed by Grimshaw, which boasts more than 1,000 photovoltaic panels on its roof canopy. Terra was open to the public between January and April as part of the Pavilions Premiere event. The building will be converted into a museum after the expo. The premiere attracted over 100,000 visitors and was a successful rehearsal for the safety measures accompanying the exhibition starting October.
As for the international participants, numerous pavilions have been announcing construction completion as opening day nears. A large-scale international expo of this kind is always something of an architectural showcase, with many of the participants creating individual, custom-designed pavilions to house their exhibits.
On October 11, 2020, Norway was the first nation to be issued a BCC (Building Completion Certificate). Norway’s pavilion is the work of a consortium including Rintala Eggertsson Architects, Expomobilia and Five Currents.
Saudi Arabia announced completion November 29, 2020. At 13,069 square meters, this vast pavilion, designed by Spanish architecture and design firm Boris Micka Associates, is the second largest international pavilion after the UAE host presence. It is located within the expo’s Opportunity District.
The Monaco pavilion is complete. The pavilion creation team includes Monaco Inter Expo Limited Company, facts and fiction GmBH, Agence Olivier Deverini Architecture, and OOS Studio & AODA.
Groundbreaking for the 4,562 square meter Russian Pavilion took place in January 2021 and completion is expected in July. The 27 meter-high pavilion, designed by Tchoban Speech and Simpateca Entertainment Group, is located in the Mobility sector of the Expo.
The United States has completed exterior construction work on its prefab building. Exhibit design is being provided by Thinkwell. A feature of the US Pavilion is a replica of the booster stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The German Pavilion construction is almost finished. Its workforce has reportedly averaged 166 construction workers on the site every day since August 2019, clocking around 472,000 hours. Overseeing the pavilion is Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, which commissioned Koelnmesse GmbH, Cologne’s trade fair operator, to organize and operate. A creative consortium handling concept design, planning and implementation includes facts and fiction GmbH and NUSSLI Adunic AG, NUSSLI Adunic and LAVA – Laboratory for Visionary Architecture.
India’s $68 million national pavilion is designed by CP KUKRJEA Architects and set for turnover by the end of July.
The Philippines pavilion, designed by Budji+Royal Architecture and located in the Sustainability District of the expo, was on the point of completion at this writing.
Work on Pakistan’s $21 million pavilion has been completed. Located in the Opportunity District of the expo, its theme is ‘Pakistan: The Hidden Treasure.’ Architect of record is Khatib & Alami.
On May 4, 2021, the sixth and final International Participants’ Meeting (IPM) for Expo 2020 Dubai Organizers, International Participants and the BIE took place to review preparations for the event. Delegates from 173 countries and 24 international organizations met at Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC), Expo 2020 Dubai. with a number of country representatives also participating virtually. This marked the first in-person gathering of international participants since August 2019 and was also the first event to take place in the Dubai Exhibition Centre on the Expo grounds, a 45,000 square meter facility that will host Expo 2020 Dubai’s largest events.
In opening remarks, BIE Secretary General Dimitri S. Kerkentzes declared, “World Expos provide us with a global platform for modern multilateralism, bringing together countries, international organizations, businesses, NGOs, researchers and citizens, so that everyone can play a role in creating solutions and overcoming challenges.
“For tens of millions of people, here in the UAE, in the Middle East and across the world, Expo 2020 Dubai will be the occasion, to reconnect with the whole world, to truly engage with questions of universal importance and to develop innovative solutions to our global problems. In Dubai, by connecting minds, we will create a better future.”
His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Expo 2020 Dubai Higher Committee, said: “Today, the world has come to Expo 2020 Dubai, traveling from every corner of the planet to join us here, to share our excitement and to see first-hand our advanced state of readiness. As we approach the climax of our journey to deliver an Expo that inspires, enlightens and astonishes, our message is clear: We are ready to welcome the world.”
The United Arab Emirates has invested over $7 billion in the expo and the 192 participating countries many millions more. Organizers forecast 25 million visits to this mega-event. That figure assumes that 70% of that total will come from international visitors arriving almost entirely by air. Even under normal conditions, for an expo to receive such a large proportion of visitors from abroad is extraordinary and unprecedented, but tourism and attraction development in this region has often challenged traditional expectations. At this writing, a few short months before opening day, air travel has not fully recovered from the effects of the pandemic, but things are changing rapidly and the expo will have a full six months to host the world.
Since retiring from the US State Department in 2011 after a 30+ year career in world expos, James Ogul ([email protected]) has remained on the scene in an advisory and consulting role. He writes regularly for InPark Magazine about world’s fairs. See his free online book, Tales From the Expo.
All images courtesy Expo 2020 Dubai