Five Must-See Country Pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai

The architectural showpieces built by these nations add even more panache to the first-ever World’s Fair held in the Middle East, now running through April 2022.

Photo: Ry Galloway and Alin Consstantin, courtesy of Es Devlin

United Kingdom

Created by female artist and stage designer Es Devlin, and shaped like a cone resting on its side, the eye-catching U.K. Pavilion was built out of cross-laminated timber sourced from Italy and Austria. Each visitor is invited to contribute a word at the “mouthpiece” inside the central space, which is then fed into an algorithm to generate an ever-changing poem in English and Arabic that flashes across the facade’s LED displays. ­­­­Inside, you won’t find any exhibits (the building itself acts as a large-scale art installation), but you’ll be bathed in a soundscape of music from British choirs of different ethnicities. Es Devlin has said the pavilion expresses U.K.’s openness and cultural diversity, and its role as a meeting place of culture and ideas.


Photo courtesy of Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai


This vertical “rain forest in the desert” proved an instant hit during the expo’s opening weekend. Located in the Sustainability District, the Singapore Pavilion is powered entirely by its own solar panels, promising zero net energy consumption throughout the course of the event. Its design comes courtesy of WOHA, the same architecture studio behind Singapore’s greenery-clad Parkroyal Hotel Pickering and Oasia Hotel Downtown. The hanging gardens and abundance of tropical flora (illuminated in vivid colors after dark) — interlaced with ramps and walkways — brings to mind the Cloud Forest conservatory at Gardens by the Bay. A wall of more than 50 native orchid species have also been planted at one of three “garden cones” in the center of the building. Hungry visitors will want to head to the Sky Market on the top floor for satay and other specialties from the city’s multiethnic cuisine.


Photo courtesy of Japan Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai


Inspired by origami and geometric patterns found in both Japanese and Arab art, Yuko Nagayama and Associates wrapped the Japan Pavilion in a lattice to shield its semi-open entrance foyer from the sun’s rays while letting in natural light. The perforated skin recalls the hexagonal asanoha (hemp-leaf) motif that has been use since the Heian period, while the thin shading material also nods to traditional washi paper and origata, the art of wrapping gifts. An adjoining glass-walled building is home to the first outpost in the Middle East for Sushiro, a popular kaiten sushi chain, and the fully halal menu here offers no less than 120 dishes. Japan will be the next host of the mega-event, with Expo 2025 slated to take place in Osaka.


An artist’s impression of the Italy Pavilion. (Photo courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati)


Titled “Sailing Beauty,” the 25-meter-high Italy Pavilion is experimental eco-friendly architecture with a nautical twist, a reference to Dubai’s maritime tradition and the historic trading connections that have existed between Italy and the Middle East since ancient times. The structure is crowned with three boat hulls painted in the colors of the Italian flag; these were brought in by sea, turned upside-down and lifted to the roof, where they were arranged in the shape of a “Z”. According to Carlo Ratti Associati, which teamed up with architects Italo Rota and Matteo Gatto, as well as multidisciplinary firm F&M Ingegneria for the project, the overarching goal was to showcase Italian design and innovation without resorting to clichés. In place of walls, a curtain of ropes made from two million recycled plastic bottles allow for natural ventilation, cutting out the need for air conditioning.


Photo: Palladium Photodesign/Oliver Schuh + Barbara Burg, courtesy of Santiago Calatrava


The expo’s host nation, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this December, has one of two country pavilions (the other belongs to Qatar) designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The organic form takes its cues from the wing of a falcon, the country’s national bird. Atop the building, 28 locally made carbon-fiber “wings” can be opened like petals in just three minutes, and closed to protect the solar panels on the roof. The futuristic, stark-white interior is just as arresting; it’s centered on a spherical auditorium below a skylight that resembles the logo of Expo 2020 Dubai. The pavilion as a whole is intended as a symbol of the “pioneering spirit” of the UAE, and significant milestones and Emirati achievements are showcased in exhibits across its four stories.

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