Expo 2020 Dubai plans to bring
sustainable architecture home

Information by Written by : Tom Page, CNN | Published: 07 March, 2019

1 / 24 - Designed by doctoral students from architecture firm Formosa AA Inc, the Czech pavilion in the sustainability zone of Expo 2020 will utilize a "S.A.W.E.R" (Solar Air Water Earth Resource) system to create a green landscape in the desert. One part of the system generates water from the air using solar power, while another cultivates fertile ground. Formosa AA Inc.

2 / 24 - The pavilion design will feature an array of bioplastic pipes connected to the S.A.W.E.R system, combining form and function.Formosa AA Inc.

3 / 24 - Designed by Vienna-based Querkraft, the Austrian pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai utilizes traditional Gulf building methods that its architects believe could reduce energy consumption by 72%.courtesy Querkraft

4 / 24 - Giant interlacing cones made of concrete and finished with a layer of rammed clay give the structure strong heat-absorbing qualities, meaning that when pavilion entrances are opened up to the night air and then closed off during the day, it stays cool. The design is inspired by the traditional "barjeel," or wind tower.courtesy Querkraft

5 / 24 - Spain's pavilion, designed by Madrid-based amann-canovas-maruri, features 17 conical tents above its exhibition area. The cones act as solar chimneys, a form of natural ventilation that encourages hot air out of the top of the pavilion while drawing in fresh air at the bottom. Amann-Canovas-Maruri

6 / 24 - 6 / 24 -Architect Nicolas Maruri says the firm is still working towards how it will execute the design, and that it plans to use recycled materials in its construction.Amann-Canovas-Maruri

7 / 24 - Some of the exhibiting space (seen here from above) will be buried 15 feet below ground level, helping to reduce interior temperatures.Amann-Canovas-Maruri

8 / 24 - The Dutch pavilion was designed by a consortium including V8 Architects and will be built from a large amount of rented sheet piling -- a construction material normally used in excavation and earth retainment.V8 Architects

9 / 24 - Inside the pavilion a biotope, a self-contained natural environment, is planned. Water will be generated by forced condensation, vegetables grown on the outside of a large central cone, and mushrooms grown on the interior.V8 Architects

10 / 24 - The consortium are introducing a host of sustainability measures including biodegradable cutlery, and according to V8 Architects founding partner Michiel Raaphorst, "for every component we have found an afterlife."V8 Architects

11 / 24 - Described by architects LAVA as "a vertical campus of nature and technology," the German pavilion is a voluminous creation with a lightweight roof covered in a metallic skin that allows light to enter the building through small openings.facts and fiction/adunic/LAVA

12 / 24 - Interlinked "floating" cubes will host exhibitions around an open atrium containing native German plants. LAVA say the overall layout utilizes passive energy saving measures, minimizing direct sunlight and trapping vertical airspace to create an "optimized climate."facts and fiction/adunic/LAVA

13 / 24 - Brazil's 4,000 square meter pavilion takes an aquatic theme and was designed by the offices of Ben-Avid, JPG.ARQ and MMBB Arquitetos. Visitors will cross what the architects describe as a "thin water blade" representing Brazil's rivers, surrounded by complementary projections, sounds and smells.courtesy Ben-Avid/JPG.ARQ/MMBB Arquitetos

14 / 24 - The pavilion is inspired by the Negro River in the Amazon Rainforest, and will also include raised pavements reminiscent of the stilted houses found along riverbanks in the region.courtesy Ben-Avid/JPG.ARQ/MMBB Arquitetos

15 / 24 - The New Zealand pavilion was conceived by architects Jasmax and themed around sustainability and the idea of "kaitiakitanga," Māori for "care for people and place." The design was inspired by "waka taonga," say Jasmax, "receptacles made by Māori to safe-guard items of considerable intrinsic value" -- normally intricately carved and sometimes presented as gifts to strengthen relationships and forge new partnerships.Jasmax

16 / 24 - The USA pavilion, designed by Curtis W. Fentress of Fentress Architects, takes the theme of mobility and will showcase cutting-edge transport including hyperloop technology and extraterrestrial vehicles.courtesy Pavilion USA 2020

17 / 24 - Early renders include dioramas with SpaceX capsules and Martian rovers. "It showcases all the things we are doing in America: developing technology and concepts that are going to move us forward in the future," said Fentress in a press release.courtesy Pavilion USA 2020

18 / 24 - Virgin Hyperloop One will be of particular interest to Emirati visitors: the Dubai government is in talks with the company to build a passenger and cargo network in the emirate. courtesy Pavilion USA 2020

19 / 24 - Called the "Poem Pavilion," the UK pavilion was designed by British artist Es Devlin and contains a space-inspired interactive poetry generator.courtesy UK Department for International Trade

20 / 24 - Shaped like a giant megaphone, visitors can contribute a messages which will be turned into poetry by artificial intelligence and displayed in LEDs. Fittingly for a World Expo, it will be multilingual.courtesy UK Department for International Trade

21 / 24 - Dubbed "Belles Vues" and designed by OOS, Bellprat Partner and Lorenz Eugster, the Swiss pavilion invites visitors on a virtual hike through the country's epic scenery before ending on a rooftop terrace.courtesy House of Switzerland/OOS/Bellprat Partner/Lorenz Eugster

22 / 24 - The Sustainability pavilion (which along with the Opportunity pavilion, Mobility pavilion and UAE pavilion, will remain after Expo 2020) was designed by Grimshaw Architects, who told CNN in 2018 it aims to create a net-zero energy building.Grimshaw Architects

23 / 24 - Around the central pavilion will be photovoltaic "e-trees" which will rotate with the sun in an act of biomimicry to generate electricity and generate water from the air.Expo 2020

24 / 24 - The pavilion will be partially buried to aid cooling, say Grimshaw, while walkways inspired by Wadi riverbeds will feature local plants in the landscaping.Grimshaw Architects

Nearly 5,000 solar panels cover the pavilion roof and solar “trees,” which rotate with the arc of the sun for maximum light exposure. Another “tree” will harvest water by condensing air humidity, an innovative irrigation system will water the gardens, and wastewater will be recycled. The pavilion is partly buried, keeping it cooler than its surroundings.

When the mercury soars in Dubai, the thought of living without air con is enough to make anyone break out in cold sweats.

But keeping cool comes at a cost. During the summer months air conditioning is responsible for 60% of peak electricity demand in Dubai, and the UAE government has named it as a factor behind why the Gulf state has one of the highest levels of energy consumption per capita in the world. From citizen-led initiatives to constructing a giant renewable energy plant, there's an ongoing battle to meet -- and mediate -- demand. And yet, before air conditioning became ubiquitous, Emiratis were more than capable of staying cool, employing vernacular architecture which sheltered people from the harsh climate without the need for electricity.

These traditional building techniques were sidelined as the city moved towards a contemporary vision wrought of concrete, steel and glass. But as Dubai prepares for Expo 2020, national pavilion announcements show a revival of low-tech sustainability is underway.


Designed by Vienna-based Querkraft, the Austrian pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai utilizes traditional Gulf building methods that its architects believe could reduce energy consumption by 72%. Credit: courtesy Querkraft

Clemens Russ, an architect at Vienna-based Querkraft, project managed the design for the Austrian Expo pavilion.

"Something that we have to really honestly discuss about sustainability (is) it's not only about putting photovoltaic cells on a rooftop, or producing energy," he argues. "It's also how we are using our building materials."

"What I would wish to see more are urban concepts that work with local conditions," he explains. "By ignoring the local conditions such as sun, wind, sand, snow, rain, humidity ... buildings have to perform extremely high(ly) to cope. This increases the building costs of technical infrastructure -- such as mechanical cooling (and) ventilation parts -- absurdly."

The Austrian pavilion at Expo 2020 utilizes a passive, naturally ventilated system inspired by a "barjeel" wind tower -- an architectural feature which can trace its roots back 5,000 years according to Shatha Al-Mulla, head of the research and studies unit at the Architectural Heritage and Antiquities Department of Dubai Municipality.

A traditional wind tower in the Al Fahidi Neighbourhood, also known as Al Bastakiya, in Dubai. Credit: KARIM SAHIB/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Al-Mulla says a wind tower in Dubai usually has four open sides at the top, with an interior dividing panel facing the wind. "When wind hits the tower, it enters the building through two sides," she explains, and "because it's cooler air than inside, it pushes the hot air (up) through the other two sides." It can mean the difference between 30 degrees outside and feeling 20 degrees inside, she adds.

The Austrian pavilion will be constructed of intersected concrete cones, prefabricated and cut to different heights. Russ says six centimeters of rammed clay with strong heat storage properties will cover the walls, and the cones will have ventilating domes at their apexes allowing in light.

Utilizing Dubai's large day-night temperature swing, at night entrances at the base and the apexes will open, allowing cold air to flow between the cones, releasing heat from the walls and floor, and storing cold energy there instead. During the day entrances and apexes will close, locking cool temperatures within. The architects believe the system could reduce energy consumption by 72%.

"What we tried was to get a new dialogue, thinking of old strategies where people could not just randomly use money or energy resources for cooling down their spaces," Russ explains. "We wanted to show how easily we can use the local context, like the Arab building culture, which is astonishing."


The Spain pavilion, designed by amann-canovas-maruri. Credit: Amann-Canovas-Maruri

The Spanish pavilion, designed by Madrid-based amann-canovas-maruri, also takes a conical approach, with 17 tents above a large open-plan exhibition space. "These tents will have the form of solar chimneys," says architect Nicolas Maruri.

Solar chimneys utilize the heat of the sun on the side of a structure, drawing hot air out of the top of a building while allowing cool air in at the bottom -- a natural ventilation method has been around for centuries.

"What we first tackled was the idea of reducing energy consumption without using much technology," he adds. Parts of the exhibiting space will be buried up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) underground to reduce heat transmission, and the architects hope to use some recycled materials and wood.

A render of the biotope planned for the Netherlands pavilion. Credit: V8 Architects

Michiel Raaphorst, founding partner at V8 Architects and part of a consortium behind the Dutch pavilion, says "because the conditions are so harsh you really need to refer back to traditional technologies of natural ventilation and to building mass for heat accumulation."

The Dutch pavilion seeks to harness the power of the sun to create a biotope: a self-contained natural environment.

The pavilion arrives at a time when enterprises in Dubai are trying to boost the emirate's homegrown food supply. Inside the biotope, V8 Architects say they will use solar power to condense moisture out of the air, producing water. A giant cone of vegetables will produce oxygen, while on the dark inside of the cone mushrooms will grow, producing carbon dioxide to feed the vegetables.

"It's always making one inclusive system," says the architect, adding they hope to feed visitors with produce grown in the pavilion.


An illustration showing a cross-section of the biotope, with mushrooms growing on the inside. Credit: V8 Architects

Large parts of the pavilion will be constructed from rented steel sheet piling (a material used in excavation or earth retainment and, per the architect, in abundant supply in Dubai). Once the Expo ends, it simply returns to the supplier. "For every component we have found an afterlife," he says.

"(The pavilion is) inspired by Dubai, by the harsh conditions, but also a very actual movement," Raaphorst adds. "We use too much from the earth, and we should give back."

To see more pavilions planned for Expo 2020 Dubai, scroll through the gallery above.