Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: Expo 2020, the long-awaited World Expo hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, originally scheduled for Oct. 20, 2020 through Apr. 10, 2021, is now taking the first steps towards opening to the public, despite rising coronavirus cases around the globe and in the UAE.
On Saturday, Expo 2020’s signature pavilion, Terra, which focuses on sustainability, was unveiled. It will open to the public on Jan. 22 until Apr. 10 as part of the Pavilions Premiere, a limited-time opportunity for visitors to preview Expo 2020’s Thematic Pavilions ahead of their world debut in October 2021. Alif — The Mobility Pavilion and Mission Possible — The Opportunity Pavilion, will follow later in the first quarter of 2021.
Dubai is in a rush to get Expo 2020 up and running after its year-long delay and a pandemic that nearly pummeled its already fragile pre-pandemic economy. The world fair is expected to draw around 25 million visitors to the UAE and spark a multitude of business transactions. It represents billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure to boost international tourism and investment.
Terra features an immense 130-meter-wide canopy covered with 1,055 solar panels that look like flying saucers or a technological rendition of the desert palm tree. The pavilion was designed by UK-based Grimshaw Architects with the aim of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification — the highest available accreditation for sustainable architecture.
The panels generate 4 gigawatts of alternative energy per year, enough electricity to charge more than 900,000 mobile phones. They rise up from the desert landscape amid the fair’s extensive grounds that cover a total of 438 hectares, and are located in the Dubai South district, near the Al-Maktoum International Airport. The feat is so impressively large that it nearly hides the sight of construction workers busily completing the remainder of the national pavilions.
Terra, which is derived from the Latin word meaning “earth,” cost about $272 million and is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes. It also captures rain in an underground container and will supply all of its own water. The pavilion intends to serve as a catalyst for environmental change in the UAE, the wider Middle East and internationally. The pavilion takes guests on an emotionally charged journey through art, technology, sustainable design and architecture to tell the tale of humanity’s relationship with the planet and how our actions now can serve to mend present-day crises for the greater good.
“We hope that visitors to Terra are suddenly touched by their emotions and realize the beauty of the world around us,” Sustainability Pavilion Director at Expo 2020, John Bull, told Arab News. “We give them information regarding how the planet is under threat and really hope that they will act with love and knowledge and be inspired to come up with solutions to the problems that they face in their daily lives, and bring a greater balance to mankind’s relationship with nature.”
Guests are taken on a playful and emotive journey through the natural world, including an interactive walk through the forest, where visitors will uncover the effects of mankind’s harmful decisions on the planet. There is also a courtyard area where several of the UAE’s leading artists — Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Zainab Al-Hashemi and Mohamed Kazem — exhibit works specially commissioned for Expo 2020 representing aspects of the interaction between mankind and earth.
There is also a children’s playground, gift area and several dining outfits. The experience manages to engage all of the senses and leaves a meaningful message. After the world fair, Terra will remain as science center to inspire future generations to make sustainable choices.
“I think of Terra like a hive of ideas,” added Bull. “It is an opportunity for our visitors to take their energy, excitement and passion that we have hopefully instilled in them and to make pledges about their daily lives and sign up for initiatives here in the UAE and elsewhere in the world.”
Expo 2020 is about human connection, dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Dubai, long a center for trade and commerce in the East, resumes its ancient role through the world fair.
“Our main theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is more important than ever, as we need to work in unison to find solutions to the challenges the world has presented to us,” said Mohamed Al-Ansaari, communications vice president of Expo 2020. “It’s not about being isolated and closing down the borders; it’s now about bringing people together, connecting minds and creating the future.”
During the press conferences, organizers said that the fair always intended to have a digital component, which is especially crucial amid surging coronavirus cases and an uncertain future. Despite this, the opening of the Pavilions Premiere on Saturday featured nothing but optimism and enthusiasm.
“Even before the pandemic hit last year, we always planned for a strong online presence,” said Reem Ebrahim Al-Ashimy, the Expo’s director general and UAE minister of state for international cooperation. “This has proven to be more important now due to the situation that we are in. After months of isolation and uncertainty, this event will serve as an opportunity to motivate human solidarity.”
What will happen to Terra or the Expo after the event has finished? To have such building sites demolished, as is usually the case, can hardly be called a “sustainable” action. Post-Expo, 80 percent of the buildings will be repurposed in District 2020, the integrated “smart city of the future” in Dubai. Al-Ansaari said: “Expo 2020 will live on and continue to connect people and spaces through a smart and sustainable way. Dubai, like its ancient name ‘Al-Wasl,’ which means ‘connector,’ has always been about bringing diverse people together, through trade, ideas and commerce.”