Dubai: With a name tag around your neck, you sit in orientation in the company of fellow freshmen from all around the world.
This is Campus Germany in Expo 2020 Dubai’s Sustainability District, where you can expect the perfect balance of work and play throughout your brief academic career. Each and every room in the five-storey-high building knows your name, nationality and the language you speak.
“An indoor navigation system can tell where you are and present the information accordingly,” said Andreas Horbelt, Chief Creative Officer of facts and fiction and the mastermind behind the highly personalised visitor journey at the Germany Pavilion. “In here, you are made to feel as a subject, not an object — that was very important to us.”
The pavilion is nearly omniscient in that sense — screens greet visitors with their names as they amble past and subtitles on videos switch to the language of their choice once they are close. All you need is your handy badge to trigger that customised experience. Entertainment aside, the message becomes clearer when more than one person is needed to overcome a challenge — humanity needs to “come together to find solutions”.
‘Now bring the Earth back on track!’ exclaims one table with a rolling ball at the centre. In the era of Anthropocene, there are certain planetary boundaries we must respect to keep our existence from being endangered. Together with other visitors, you are told your collective efforts can save the human race if you can keep the ball out of the ‘red zone’. Visitors shuffle around the table in glee and in earnest to protect the Earth, a side step in the wrong direction can send the ball rolling away.
You not only learn that we have crossed four of the nine planetary boundaries — one of which is climate change — but also realise the significance of working together to solve global challenges.
“We talked to many scientists and companies about the future — and then we had to translate all of that content into experiences,” said Horbelt. “The research phase took us about two years.”
Graduate on swings
All four zones of the Germany Pavilion are deceptively playful. A pit of 100,000 balls in the ‘Welcome Hall’ is more than just a playground; each ball holds the ideas of a sustainability champion from Germany. From how we will survive in the growing cities of the future to new ways of creating energy, the campus is a treasure trove of sustainable solutions — the term was first coined in German, after all.
At the end of it all, a moving graduation ceremony awaits, no matter how you fared in your lessons. In lieu of a black gown and a cap, this graduation involves a whole lot of swinging. “You showed you cared,” a sombre voice echoes from the wall-to-wall screens as visitors take their seats on suspended swings in the vast hall. Here, you are challenged to a final task: swing in sync to save the world in sync.