By Gavin Gibbon
The Expo World Fair and innovation in construction have walked hand in hand for more than 167 years, since the two were thrust together at the very first Expo in London back in 1851 that gave birth to the architectural marvel that was Crystal Palace, made from cast iron and glass.
One of the highlights of the 1876 Expo in Philadelphia, USA was the first public showing of the arm and torch of New York’s famous Statue of Liberty. The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel for the Exposition Universelle de 1889. In 1962 the Space Needle went on to become the dominant central structure of the World Expo hosted in Seattle USA. And more recently, the main building of Expo Shanghai in 2010 - Expo Axis - which consists of steel-glass funnels and the world’s largest membrane roof (1,000 metres long), has gone on to become a permanent and iconic structure.
And so the organisers of Expo 2020 Dubai may have been forgiven for being slightly apprehensive back in November 2013 while celebrating being chosen by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the international organisation responsible for overseeing, regulating and selecting the candidate for each World Expo, as the first venue in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia to host the international six-month event.
Simply not so as the emirate gears up to show the world, from October 2020, that Expo and Dubai are very much a perfect match.
Ahmed Al Khatib, SVP of real estate and delivery at Expo 2020, said: “Innovation has been at the top of our agenda from day one. All World Expos are all about innovation, about new things, how to move to the next level; either through different areas relevant to the theme or the other elements that drive the journey and the event itself.”
Sustainability is key
Each Expo revolves around its own theme to leave a lasting impact on the path of human progress - Expo 2020 Dubai’s core theme is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and this is reflected in the innovative construction and sustainable guidelines being deployed throughout the 4.38km2 site at Dubai South, close to Al Maktoum International Airport.
Al Khatib said: “Every building we are building for Expo meets at least LEED Gold standard for sustainability. This classification sets a lot of guidelines for the design and a lot of work on how the building will be in terms of power consumption and water consumption and efficiency. There are different KPIs under LEED Gold that we are fully complying with.
“Sustainability is so important. It’s one of our sub themes and is very important to us. We have 41 KPIs related to sustainability and sustainable practices in design and construction. Even waste management, those KPIs, we’ve been following them strictly. We meet with the contractors and consultants on a regular basis to follow up on our KPIs.”
A further KPI is to have 50% of the energy supplying Expo coming from renewable energy sources, with solar panels on all permanent buildings and some shade structures and the supply of clean energy through the grid at Sheikh Mohammed Solar Park.
Al Khatib added: “Last year, one of our KPIs was to divert more than 80% of construction waste away from landfill. We met this - over the year we managed to divert more than 300,000 tonnes of construction waste away from landfill.”
Meanwhile the main car parking area (30,000 spaces) is being constructed using the rubber from recycled tyres as a binding agent, which makes up more than 20% of the asphalt mix.
“This is the first of its kind in the region and we’ve been approached by many organisations who want to learn from our experiences. We obviously had challenges with the authorities to convince them on the new ways to push the bar. We’ve done a lot of trial mixes, we’ve done a lot of testing with Dubai Central Lab on our mixes and we’ve reached a very successful result which we are implementing on our site,” explained Al Khatib.
More than 30 million work hours have been completed on the Expo 2020 site, with construction well advanced on the three Thematic Districts that form the site - Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. External cladding work on all three has begun and is scheduled for completion by the end of this year, when glass and interior works can begin.
UAE-based companies are playing a leading role in the construction effort, including Al-Futtaim Carillion, Khansaheb, Besix, Arabtec and Tristar Engineering, as well as early works completed by Al Naboodah Construction.
Al Khatib admitted it has been a positive experience getting everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet, which has come in the form of the Sustainable Materials Guideline instructions, governing everything from the amount of shaded areas to the sourcing of materials.
He said: “It was really difficult at the beginning because change is always difficult, especially when it comes to items like business as usual, but through the process it has been very enjoyable challenges. Everyone was asking the right questions, the challenges were very constructive. And we have benefited a lot from that as we want to make sure any solutions we provide really work for our country and our region.”
The jewel in the crown
All major design elements are also complete – the last being the iconic Al Wasl Plaza, a 150-metre wide, 67.5-metre tall domed space that will be enjoyed by millions of visitors and is considered the jewel in the crown of Expo 2020 Dubai.
Abu Dhabi-based Cimolai Rimond Middle East General Contracting LLC is providing the steel work for the intricate domed trellis of Al Wasl Plaza, which has taken its inspiration from the shape of the Expo 2020 Dubai logo. Work to erect the enormous pieces of steelwork, produced by the UAE-Italian joint venture, began in August. Each piece was cast in Italy and shipped to Dubai for nearly a month.
When finished the structure will include 13,600 metres of intricate steel work and weigh 2,265 tonnes, equivalent to 500 elephants, with an enclosed space of 724,000 cubic metres - the same volume as 290 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The dome will incorporate a huge immersive projection experience that can also be viewed from the sky above.
Designed by world-renowned Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), Al Wasl Plaza will connect the three thematic districts as well as the other main concourses, including the Dubai Metro link and the UAE Pavilion through its seven entrances and exits.
Gill said: “We want Al Wasl Plaza, with its cutting-edge design, to inspire not just our generation, but many generations to come.”
In January 2017, Expo unveiled the Sustainability Pavilion, designed by Grimshaw Architects. The structure explores the potential for buildings to be self-sustaining in water and energy, by using innovative combinations of technologies to harvest solar power, and water from the air. Construction is well underway and due to be completed by October 2019.
Al Khatib said: “To this scale, I don’t think this has been done before. Every element of the building has a mechanism for harvesting water from air and also the surroundings of the building, we call them the trees. Those trees will have some elements attached to them. Their role is to harvest energy from the sun and also water from the air. The amount of water that we will be collecting from the run-off on the ground, we will reuse every possible source of water, and that’s the case for every pavilion.”
Leaving a legacy
But Al Khatib was quick to stress that he and the Expo team are not just planning for 2020 and the six months in the spotlight. Their plans take in what will happen when the millions of visitors have left - where 80% of the Expo built structures in Dubai will be transformed for District 2020. The interconnected district will include 65,000 sqm of residential space and 135,000 sqm of commercial space in a location that will be home to world-class innovation, educational, cultural and entertainment facilities, as well as a conference and exhibition centre.
Al Khatib said: “When we started designing the buildings, the direction came from His Highness not to demolish any buildings that we built for the Expo. This is completely different from any other Expo where most buildings are built for the purpose of the Expo and small areas are used for the legacy. This was a big challenge for us in how we can build the buildings that can serve the Expo and also can be flexible enough to cope with the real estate market. We managed to come up with the current design that is able to achieve this and gives us the flexibility to change the uses and to deal with market demand - to be able to connect from residential to commercial, to research and development centres, you name it.”
Fast Facts: EXPO 2020 Dubai
Awarded to Dubai in Nov 2013
Running from 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021
Site is 4.38 km2
Three themed districts – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability
Site development began March 2016
Over AED 11bn ($3bn) in contracts awarded in 2017
30 mn work hours completed as of June 2018
Pouring 6,100 m3 of concrete, 500 tonnes of steel every week
180 countries expected to participate
70% of visitors to come from outside UAE
30,000 UAE resident volunteers
Legacy project District 2020 will have 65,000 m2 of residential and 135,000 m2 of commercial space