Ahmed Al Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer for Expo 2020: "In terms of size, we will have the biggest legacy as a World Expo host city. Everything that we build remains..." Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai doesn’t believe in taking a timeout, a breather, or anything else you want to call it.

From the moment the Expo signs off on March 31 of 2022, Dubai will immediately proceed to building up its new ‘city’. A city, which by the way, already has many of its future landmarks and destinations in place.

Welcome then to the ‘District 2020’ – Dubai’s version of a ‘smart city’ that will emerge out of the 2.5 square kilometres earmarked as the Expo venue and then in time expand outwards. So, how quickly will the speed of transition be – from Expo 2020 mode into District 2020?

“We will start handover of some of the permanent Expo 2020 builds immediately,” said Ahmed Al Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer for the Expo. “Our buildings are built for the Expo… and [thereafter] as its legacy. It will take about four to six months for the actual opening of the first phase. Within a maximum of one year, the entire city - District 2020 Phase 1 - will be available.”

It will not end there - “We are putting together the strategy of how to phase in the other buildings,” he added.

That’s where the complexity of this particular project lies. First, there is the creation of a destination for the world to meet. And even as it’s being built, the entire site and its attractions need to be repurposed for life after the six-month extravaganza.

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"In terms of the current builds on Expo 2020 site, it’s all owned by the Government," said Ahmed Al Khatib. "Whatever plans we have - whether to sell, lease the land or buildings - at District 2020, it will be similar to how it's done in the rest of the market.

"We should be talking about this soon as to how developers can be part of District 2020."

No easy switch

“With most Expos of the past, during the build phase, there is a big component that’s temporary,” said Al Khatib. “It’s because those buildings would serve as entertainment venues or exhibition spaces. They didn’t have a purpose other than to be in use during the event.

“But our direction was to keep everything that we build for the Expo as permanent. Then, the challenge was how we can create a ‘city’ that can host the Expo, exit safely, and then cope with future demand of the wider city expansion – in terms of offices, in terms of smart cities, technology and entertainment.

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"Repurpose" whatever gets built for Expo 2020? Ahmed Al Khatib prefers to use the term "retrofit". Image Credit: Supplied

Revisions and more

That meant masterplan designs went through constant tweaks as new elements added to aid the transition to being a permanent destination. “We actually started backwards – first by imagining how we wanted the future destination to be in terms of size, floor space, experience of tenants,” he added.

“Then we worked backwords to see how we could dress up this location to host the Expo. So, nothing we would demolish from what we build as the organiser. That means 80-85 per cent will remain – the only things that will go are the event-specific needs.

“We call them the ‘overlays’ – security gates, searching point, fences – to help in managing the event.”

In all, there were 28 revisions of the masterplan before all the finer points were signed off. “We added things, removed some, simplified some processes,” said Al Khatib. “During the initial stages of the masterplan, before 2015, we went back to how the older Expos were built handled – Shanghai in 2010. In 2012 and 2013, we met with the organisers of Expo Shanghai, leant from what they did, their mistakes.

“In 2015, there was the Expo Milan, and that was the best live learning we could think of. All these helped with improving our own masterplan – in terms of circulation (of visitors on-site), number of gates, pressure on the gates in terms of processing visitors, shaded areas, the green spaces…”

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Putting prevailing best practices into the design and construction was never enough for Expo 2020's planners. Pushing the boundaries became a constant theme. Image Credit: Supplied

It’s all about process

Putting the pieces to the masterplan is one thing, making sure that they get implemented in the way those details were conceived was another. The Expo 2020 project team had more than 40 KPIs (key performance indicators) to benchmark each aspect of the progress on site. A third-party consultant was brought in to record and report on how the KPIs were managed.

“These KPIs covered everything from design and construction to dismantling and operations,” the official added. “These were about what’s allowed and what’s not.

“The entire site was built in less than five years – and that’s something that can only happen in the UAE. It has always been an extremely important objective of the leadership to achieve the most sustainable expo and a most sustainable site. This puts Expo 2020 as the most sustainable in the 170-year expo history – and we actually delivered what we said.

“The future is all about smart cities - the site is 5G enabled now. Together with 5G, the Internet of Things, District 2020 is a real future city. It’s not confined to a paper or as something we say.

“We accelerated the future and built it on site…”

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Building the future... And accelerating Dubai's pathway to that future. Image Credit: Supplied