The design of the UK Pavilion for Expo 2020 in Dubai is inspired by one of the late Stephen Hawking's last projects. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A global pandemic. Change in political lines. The UK, post Brexit, is on a new path, one of reimagined international alliances and on the cusp of a new dawn. It is in this weather that the United Kingdom will be participating in Expo 2020 Dubai, which kicks off this October.

“The UK was at a different place when we first started – it was during the pre-EU exit – and right now we are looking at the UK as Global Britain, where we will be seeing things differently. It is important we help to educate and explain to people what United Kingdom is and what it stands for in the future,” explains Laura Faulkner, UK Commissioner General and Director, Expo 2020 Dubai.

And this is also the reason the pavilion is located in Expo’s Opportunity District. “It just felt natural for the United Kingdom to look at Opportunity,” she says in an interview with Gulf News.

We looked very carefully at what we could bring and what we could contribute to building a better future for all. And one of the key strands of the United Kingdoms’ offer to the world is innovation. So we talk about 'Innovation for a Shared Future'.

- Laura Faulkner, UK Commissioner General and Director, Expo 2020 Dubai

The theme the UK decided to pursue was one of novel design. “The UAE have connecting minds, creating the future as their theme. It was very clear that it was about collaborations to build a better future for all. United Kingdom listened very carefully to the challenge that was set by that statement and we looked very carefully at what we could bring and what we could contribute to building a better future for all. And one of the key strands of the United Kingdoms’ offer to the world is innovation. So we talk about 'Innovation for a Shared Future'.”

What is the pavilion all about?

When talking about innovation, the one note that played on repeat in conversations was artificial intelligence (AI), explains Faulkner. “There is AI in space, in medicine, in creative industries, in distribution and logistics. Whichever aspects of life you look at AI is making an impact and within the UK there is a great science base, great research base [trying to find] how AI can apply to solve some of those situations. [Also] within the UK we look at how AI should be governed and how it can be harnessed in the right way, we call that the tension between man, mind and machine,” she adds.

Besides AI, the other element on full display will be space.

UK: Gaze into the future and add your voice to a continuously changing poem. The UK Pavilion is inspired by a project from the late scientist Stephen Hawking, in which he pondered how humanity could express itself to an extraterrestrial civilisation. The pavilion will offer an awe-inspiring glimpse into the future. Image Credit: Supplied

Competition winner – now architect of the pavilion - Es Devlin, who was inspired by the works of the late Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough project, wanted to incorporate space into the design. “He called upon the world to unify language. Because bringing everyone together is a unity message. And he asked us to build a collective voice that we could one day send to other civilisations. She [Devlin] used that and hence the relationship between AI and space was born in the pavilion,” says Faulkner.

Who is Es Devlin?
A competition was held in the UK, where a jury of eight selected Es Devlin as the architect for the UK Pavilion. The jury comprised of people from various fields such as business, design, and science.
Multi-award-winning international stage designer and artist, Es Devlin is the mastermind behind the stages of pop stars such as Lorde, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Kanye West and Adele.
Devlin's extensive portfolio also includes Beyonce's 'The Formation World Tour' in 2016 and two Olympic ceremonies.
For her work with large-scale performative sculptures and light, the 49-year-old artist was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2015.

“The other reason was that we looked at AI and how it could help in every aspect of human life, from molecular level right up to space and frontiers that the human race may seek to explore.”

What can visitors expect?

Throughout the course of six months, the UK pavilion has prepared a line-up of experiences for global and local visitors. It will feature a soundscape, several exhibits, and a restaurant on the premises.

Events and Exhibitions

There are eight major moments – weeks – where themed exhibitions and events will take place, i.e. one theme per week. “We are going to ask a single question to the world [each week] and invite the world to join in, be that business or culture, tourism or any manner of innovator to discuss some of the biggest problems facing the world and how we as a planet can help to solve them,” says Faulkner.

“In each of these moments we have business-focused summits, we have podcasts, international speakers coming together to discuss and debate, so school children, youth, university leaders. And people from the arts, TV, music, film and theatre [will be there too]. All joining together to see if we can answer the questions, if we can build new partnerships. Within the framework of these eight weeks there are going to be many partnerships that we hope will surprise and delight.”

The topics up for discussion are:

  • What will we wear? – October 22, 2021 to October 26, 2021
  • How will we create? – November 9, 2021 to November 14, 2021
  • How will we travel? – November 19, 2021 to November 23, 2021
  • How will we learn? – December 6, 2021 to December 12, 2021
  • How will we live? – January 13, 2022 to January 18, 2022
  • How will we thrive? – January 26, 2022 to January 30, 2022
  • What will we eat? – February 14, 2022 to February 19, 2022
  • How will we advance? – March 17, 2022 to March 21, 2022

1851 restaurant

The pavilion will feature a restaurant called 1851, named so because of the significate of that year; the world’s first expo was held in the UK at the time. The restaurant will showcase ‘Innovation in food’.

What is food innovation?
Food innovation is the development of new food products, processes, and services, which can be used by food and beverage companies to make sustainable offerings, while retaining nutritional value.

Talk to aliens 

Visitors will be able to take part in an atmospheric and immersive audio experience titled 'Choral Space' at the UK pavilion. Image Credit: Supplied

If you had one word to convey a message to the world and beyond, what would it be?

Taking Hawking’s project a step further, the UK pavilion marries AI and space through poetry. How? When you visit the pavilion, you are asked to donate a word, which an AI algorithm will use to create couplets. The continuous flow of poetry will be a part of the UK pavilion’s legacy. Visitors can make their word donation via their smartphones as well.

UK’s national day celebrations

The UK will celebrate its National Day, which falls on February 10, 2022, with an array of activities and cultural festivities. For now though, this line-up remains under wraps.

COVID-19 protocols

Faulkner stresses that like Expo 2020’s organisers, the UK has also taken worker and visitor welfare into account when curating the pavilion experience.

“Fortunately, the pavilion was designed with AI, which already required guests at the pavilion to maintain a distance, and limit their contact with their surroundings,” she explains.

Innovation, opportunity and a march towards uncharted territory are all elements at play at the UK pavilion’s matrix. Are you ready for the show?

The UK pavilion will be located in the Opportunity district, and will be open for visitors when Expo 2020 runs, from October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

-The writer is an intern with Gulf News.