Words by Hannah Gresty

Dubai’s noble attempt to host the most sustainable World Expo in history is indicative of a wider trend, that of the UAE’s pioneering commitment to conservation.

World Expos have birthed some of the most extraordinary and significant monuments in recent history, from the iconic Eiffel Tower, erected for
the 1889 Exposition Universalle in Paris, to the UFO-like Space Needle, home of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Even London’s legendary ill-fated Crystal Palace, constructed for the first ever expo, ‘The Great Exhibition’, in 1851.

However ephemeral their original purpose, these magnificent creations have left a lasting impression on the nations that built them and beyond. The still under construction site of the hotly anticipated Dubai 2020 Expo, is on track to follow suit – but for more altruistic reasons: the host nation is attempting to build the most sustainable World Expo in history through the use of pioneering smart architecture and technology.

The sprawling yet intricate complex that is designed
to withstand over 25 million visitors over the expo’s
six-month lifespan is expected to generate 50 per cent of its energy requirements onsite – a result of ingenious ‘photovoltaic’ and solar-powered panels that cover walkways and buildings.

US-based architects HOK, masterminds behind the build, prove that going green doesn’t mean substance over style: a steel trellis dome measuring 130 metres in diameter (almost two Airbus A380s wing-to-wing) and over 67 metres in height forms the epicentre of the 4.38km2 purpose-built site in the well-connected Jebel Ali area of south Dubai. The Al Wasl Plaza – meaning ‘the connected’ in Arabic and the name by which the emirate went in ancient times – blooms outwards into three petallike ‘districts’, which symbolise Mobility, Opportunity and Sustainability; the expo’s core themes.

In February this year, Dubai unveiled a ground breaking solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility, which will power vehicles to and from the expo. All this for an exhibition? A lot more than the success of a high profile global event (which the UAE admittedly needs) rests on these initiatives it seems.

The event’s green credentials – which also include
water conservation strategies that save enough to fill 117 Olympic-sized swimming pools every year, and diverting 85 per cent of all waste away from landfill – fits in to a long-term vision for Dubai and reflects the wider trend for sustainable design in the Middle East.

In recent years, the UAE has invested heavily in
environmentally-friendly infrastructure. The Qatari
neighbourhood of Msheireb, lauded to be the world’s
first sustainable regeneration project; Saudi Arabia’s
$200bn solar project, which could produce three times the country’s energy requirements; and Dubai’s Clean Energy 2050 strategy, which aims to provide 75 per cent of Dubai’s power requirements from clean energy by 2050, are notable examples of policymakers’ increasingly solicitous attitude to conservation. With its bid-winning expo concept, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, Dubai’s Expo 2020 hopes to bring together disparate peoples and cultures under one roof, to innovate and collaborate for a better future. If its state-of-the-art infrastructure and approach to green design is any indication, it’s already well on its way to achieving this goal.