Not far from the Emirate desert, three colossal gates rise into the sky on the outskirts of Dubai. From a distance they look like wafer-thin latticework; up close, visitors might feel more reminiscent of portals to the next dimension. The 20 meter high entrances to Expo 2020 made of dark carbon fiber mesh give an idea of how the first world exhibition in the Arab world will present itself: large, unique and as a direct route to the achievements of tomorrow.
For six months, thousands are expected to pour into the area every day, which is the size of 280 football fields. The organizers expect 25 million visitors by the end of March, far fewer than the record for the Expo 2010 in Shanghai with 73 million. Expo 2020 has kept its name despite the corona-related postponement by one year. In the extra months of waiting, the discussion about which of the 190 or so exhibiting countries will show the most impressive pavilion this time got underway. The focus is on the topics of sustainability and new forms of mobility.
The hosts’ own pavilion, a spectacular building by the Spanish star architect Santiago Calatrava, is very popular. Like a “falcon in flight”, white wings lay over the roof, writes the Expo office of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The hydraulically retractable fins can be used to regulate solar radiation and shadows on the building. The electricity for hydraulics and light is provided by photovoltaic systems.
Austria also provides a topic of conversation with a pavilion, which, according to the architectural office Querkraft, calls for “careful and respectful use of our earthly resources”. A network of 38 intersecting cones, inspired by Arabic clay architecture, almost completely dispenses with the usual air conditioning technology. Singapore, on the other hand, invites you to a tropical rainforest, while the Netherlands has created a mini-biotope with a vertical mushroom farm in which the climate is controlled in a natural way.
The last major Expo 2015 in Milan and the smaller Special Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan already dealt with the climate, energy and the sustainable use of the earth’s resources. In the Emirates, where, together with the Gulf neighbors Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, as much energy is consumed per capita as in few other countries, the climate is now an omnipresent catchphrase. The Emirate of Dubai wants to build the largest solar park in the world by 2030, which will then cover an estimated quarter of Dubai’s total energy needs.
In the German pavilion, these topics extend to questions about furniture, carpets and seat cushions in the restaurant. The goal: to create the largest possible space with as few components and building dimensions as possible. So-called “gray energy” for production, transport, storage and disposal should be minimized, according to a paper in the pavilion. The German participants expect around three million visitors over the six months of the Expo.
When it comes to mobility, the Spaniards, among others, are making a name for themselves, presenting their Z01 Hyperloop vehicle with a planned speed of up to 1000 kilometers per hour. The Emirates are showing the world’s largest passenger elevator, which can transport up to 160 people at the same time. Those who need a break from all the tech can attend one of dozen live events or sample food from more than 50 countries. 150 robots on the site show the way there, and on request they can also take photos of visitors or bring drinks. An expo day ticket is available from the equivalent of 23 euros.
The Expo was in planning for ten years, and the operators reported 225 million hours worked on the site by March alone. Similar to a soccer World Cup or the Olympic Games, it promises the hosts an economic boost – and a lot of prestige. An important point for the Emirates, which are repeatedly criticized for the human rights situation. According to Amnesty International, critical voices continue to be suppressed there. A British court has also held Prime Minister Mohammed bin Raschid al-Maktum responsible for the kidnapping of his two daughters.
The expo organizers should breathe a sigh of relief when the lights finally come on at Al-Wasl-Plaza after a year of delay. At the opening ceremony on Thursday, among others, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and China’s pianist Lang Lang are expected, but also artists from the region such as the singer Ahlam and the Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu. And Dubai wouldn’t be Dubai if it weren’t for a superlative here too: The dome of the main square then offers the largest area for 360-degree projections in the world.