Dubai: The falcon, known for its agility, strength and courage, is a cultural symbol in the UAE that signifies the vitality of the nation and the importance of falconry in UAE tradition. It is no wonder that Expo 2020 Dubai’s UAE Pavilion, spanning 15,000 square metres and the largest on site, draws inspiration from this remarkably powerful bird.
Renowned Spanish-Swiss architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava’s design, which imitates a falcon in flight, was chosen from nine other architecture firms that presented their ideas in a seven-month long competition. Calatrava and his team, inclusive of his son Micael, drew up a design that would be both a national monument and a destination at the Expo site for visitors to immerse themselves into the Emirates’ rich history and promising future.
See the falcon’s mighty wings flap
Based in the Opportunity District, the pavilion is shaded by floating and movable wings that make up the structure’s roof. The roof structure is a hybrid between a shell and a portal frame composed of 28 wings. The wings take three minutes to open, completing a range of movements between 110 and 125 degrees.
This complex system allows the rotation of its wings, which is driven by a total of 46 specialised and synchronized hydraulic actuators - a mechanism that facilitates mechanical operations. When they are activated, hydraulic oil is pushed through the actuators, extending the pistons and opening the wings to their full capacity.
You can learn more about UAE’s natural landscape as you stroll along the exterior of the pavilion. Surrounding the UAE Pavilion and integrated throughout the space are landscaped areas with 5,600-plus plants from 12 different species and more than 80 trees, of which 2,350 plants and 45 trees are considered to be of cultural importance to the UAE.
Calatrava seeks to evoke an array of emotions as visitors immerse themselves in the UAE Pavilion’s architectural structure and landscaped areas. They then enter the pavilion and move through the designed spaces, where they are surrounded by multisensory experiences, both from an architectural standpoint as well as integrated cinematic features.
Highlighted features – the oculus and auditorium
Situated at the very top of the pavilion roof is an oculus skylight that mirrors the Expo 2020 logo and is a fixed insulated glazing unit system. This unit is designed to keep the building warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Other than providing a skylight opening, the oculus, which is 12 metres in diameter, also has a functional quality – in case of an accidental fire, its surrounding grills will open up for smoke extraction.
At the heart of the pavilion is a faceted sphere that houses an auditorium that has an outer diameter of approximately 25 metres and an overall height of approximately 20 metres. A lifting platform supports the interior seating of the auditorium and transports the audience from one floor to another while they experience audio-visual shows. The auditorium serves as both a centrepiece and a functional space with a capacity of 200 people.
Powered by UAE-made photovoltaic panels
“We are committed to ensure that the leading practices of environmental sustainability are embedded at the heart of the design process. Accordingly, the UAE Pavilion is energy-conscious and integrates a range of elements and qualities of sustainable design, ensuring the longevity of the structure, to withstand the test of time,” said Calatrava.
Sustainable elements such as photovoltaic (PV) panels produced in the UAE have been integrated into the roof structure to light up the entire building and source energy for the opening of the wings. The function of the wings is twofold, the first being its striking appearance. The second is to shelter the PV panels when they are closed from potential rain and sandstorms, and when they are open to enable the panels to absorb enough solar energy to return to the main power grid.
The UAE Pavilion has been designed and built to meet LEED Platinum Certification (based on LEED 2009 standards for New Construction). Respecting ecological limits and natural resource constraints, it will also be compliant with the Dubai Green Building Regulations and Specifications (DGBR).