Pandemic things, in the emirate of Dubai, 2020 is not over yet. And there are still almost two months left, at least until March 31, the closing date of the World Expo, the first to be held in the Middle East. Never better said, the great fair of fairs, whose motto is Connecting minds, creating the future, has been a bridge between the recent past and what are supposed to be the outlines of what is to come in the areas of mobility, sustainability and opportunity. Ten million people, in mid-January, had already visited the 237 pavilions of the fair. And there is still plenty of time to see the highlights of the exhibition before the large district created for the occasion becomes a new district with an architectural heritage that will be one more attraction to consolidate Dubai as a world tourist destination.
two days and one night
You should at least set aside a few days to get a rough idea of what Expo 2020 Dubai has to offer. Impossible to see everything in one day. It is also a good idea to spend an afternoon-evening until closing time to enjoy, not only the very pleasant temperature, but also light and water shows such as the great cybernetic waterfall with real jets that defy gravity.
the gates of the desert
As if they were defensive arches emerging from the desert, each of the three entrances to the fairgrounds – one for each district, mobility, durability and opportunity – has a gigantic gate which is a carbon fiber grid designed by architect Asif Khan. They are in fact inspired by the lattices of the mashrabiya, the closed windows of traditional houses. This is the first impression of the architectural evening into which we have entered.
Al Wasl Square
Where the three districts converge and, as the name suggests, is the meeting point of the fair. Designed by architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Hill, it’s a dome they say the Tower of Pisa would fit into, which transforms at night into a 360-degree cinema with 25 projectors. It is the place where countries that celebrate their day, as was the case in Spain last week, organize their concerts, events and sound and light events. The space for great immersive experiences.
the host country
United Arab Emirates
Next to Al Wasl Square, the largest pavilion, how could it be otherwise, that of the guests. Dubai, one of the seven territories that make up the United Arab Emirates, has already found its place in the world thanks to Guinness records, luxury and unique experiences. The Expo confirms this ambition. The pavilion, on the outside, looks like a falcon, a building with the unmistakable stamp of the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava -white of course-, with leaves that simulate the wings of the typical raptor of the Arabian Peninsula and that bend the night in just three minutes. Inside there are plenty of surprises, including an elevator cinema, although the UAE dedicates this window to the world to explain their origins and how they managed to be the desert of dreams.
Saudi Arabia requests passage
The Expo would not be understood without observing the dialectic of Dubai with the large neighbor of the United Arab Emirates. Hermetic and isolated until very recently, Saudi Arabia opened up to the world and used the Expo to demonstrate its power. There is no shortage of oil wealth and money in the Arab nation, with more resources than Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the rest of the emirates. The pavilion is a very wide inclined monolith reminiscent of a stapler and containing the largest screen in the world. From then on, the festival of LED lights and luminous spheres, in addition to a few artificial waterfalls, is incessant. All this put at the service of showing the hospitality and the tourist attractions of the great regional power. It is one of the unmissable pavilions of the fair.
The future of transport
The virtual flight with Emirates airline
At Expo Dubai, there are not only national pavilions. Companies and consortia took advantage of the event to study future mobility possibilities, one of the three thematic axes of the fair. Two proposals stand out: the ultra-fast train represented by Hyperloop, which can be experienced in the DP World Flow pavilion, and above all, the flight of the future with virtual reality offered by the Emirates Airlines pavilion, the company that has transformed Dubai into a intercontinental hub with daily air connections to Barcelona and Madrid.
Besides offering a scientific explanation of how airplanes work and even learning how to design new prototypes powered by alternative energies like hydrogen, the most stimulating experience is the quiet, scenic and safe flight of the future. As if the era of spaceships in sci-fi movies were already within reach of commercial airline passengers.
Germany and Japan
If it is difficult to establish a classification of the best pavilions, those which attract the most queues and therefore the most difficult to see are the best valued. Two countries stand out from the others, Japan and Germany. One expects interactive displays, immersive exhibits, light and water shows at Expo, but one is not quite prepared for what Japan offers, an exquisite combination of simplicity, of culture and technological innovation in a minimalist and discreet package, a demonstration of your entrepreneurial spirit. Germany, on the other hand, mixes education and entertainment in a dynamic way and with more than one surprise, like the pool of tennis balls.
The New Cold War
If the future of humanity is painted in Dubai, hegemony will be disputed in space. China devotes a spectacular building, like the sports venues of the Beijing Olympics, to displaying its spatial ambitions. A new race to colonize satellites and planets is in sight, although in Dubai it is clear that at the moment China is looking at the Moon and the United States is looking at Mars. India joins the new space cold war, which despite the yoga teachers who teach the postures at the entrance of the pavilion, also dedicates the first floor to the conquest of space.
From Kamala Harris to Space X
As we have already said, it points to space and even displays a used and salvaged rocket outside – the black dots on the flares betray it – from Space X launches. But the pavilion goes further and is fitted out like a theme park that’s traveled on a treadmill, from Kamala Harris’ keynote to the wise words of Steve Jobs.
Skyward Cones and Arabic Winks
The Spanish pavilion at Expo Dubai, although controversial and with a background, as almost always, of partisan political overtones, is worth a visit, even if only to see the short film august moon by Nacho Vigalondo. But the architectural solution, a succession of colored cones that look skyward with a Mediterranean air, by the Amman-Cánovas-Maruri studio, also stands out in a context of great architectural ambitions. The interior is full of nods to Arab culture and its connection to Spain, such as the large chessboard, a game brought to the peninsula by the Arabs.
From ‘Squid Game’ to vertical farms, jungle and alpine fog
Luxembourg has a slide to go down three floors at a time, Singapore immerses you in a tropical jungle that makes you forget you’re in the middle of a desert, and the Netherlands teaches you what a vertical farm is and how it’s possible to generate artificial rain. Expo Dubai is full of surprises. If you enter the South Korean pavilion you will notice that you are in a setting reminiscent of the famous series the squid game. And Brazil can’t reproduce an Amazonian environment, but it has created an aquatic installation with hammocks to stop time. There are pavilions from 192 countries and now is a good time to explore some less ostentatious and smaller ones. Jamaica, for example, offers a musical journey to the rhythms of the Caribbean, and Switzerland manages to transport the visitor into the mist of an alpine landscape.
The Legacy of the Exhibition
Dubai has invested nearly $9 billion, according to official figures, in the World Expo, which will close on March 31, two days before the scheduled start of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The pavilions of the three thematic axes will be part of the architectural heritage that will remain for the future in the new District 2020 of the most dynamic city of the United Arab Emirates. Terra stands out, the place of sustainability, recognizable by its circular solar panels, from Grimshaw architects, which is a good break to isolate yourself between walks in the fairgrounds; and, Alif, the mobility building, was created by Norman Foster and changes color at night. Among the national pavilions, those of Italy, with recyclable materials such as the 70 kilometers of rope that create a unique cooling curtain, and that of the United Kingdom, a wooden building in the shape of a fiber optic cable. And also that of Russia, with its colorful matryoshka domes.