Dubai: If we could combine water, energy and food sourcing technologies into one to feed our planet’s ever-growing population, would it possible then, perhaps, to end world hunger and secure a stable future for posterity? This is the question the Netherlands poses in the form of a ground-breaking innovation staged as the main act within its pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, to where erudite minds will flock, starting October 1, 2021, searching for solutions that will ensure a sustainable tomorrow.
In an interview with Gulf News, Hans Sandee, Consul General of Kingdom of the Netherlands in the UAE and Commissioner General of the Netherlands Pavilion, says that the world’s population is projected to reach 10 billion by the year 2050 as per the United Nations. “We realise that you can only cater to such a huge number when you do something different as we do in our pavilion,” Sandee adds.
The estimated population growth for the year 2050 is 10 billion according to the United Nations. We realise that you can only cater to such a huge number when you do something different as we do in our pavilion.
Participating under the theme of ‘Uniting water, energy and food’ in the Sustainability District, the pavilion brings the best of the Netherlands to the UAE as a partner committed to healing the world. The Netherlands Pavilion also happens to be the only country pavilion from Expo 2020 Dubai to have participated and advanced as a finalist in the ‘Best Sustainability Education or Awareness Programme’ category for the Gulf Sustainability Awards 2021.
“The Economic and Agriculture Departments at the Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General in Dubai have been working tirelessly to promote the Dutch water-energy-food nexus expertise in the UAE and wider Gulf region,” adds Lody Embrechts, Kingdom of the Netherlands Ambassador to the UAE, who says multiple roundtables have been organised on food production and security with the government.
A three-in-one miracle
Designed by Rotterdam-based V8 Architects, the Netherlands Pavilion foregoes the typical concrete building in favour of a biotope to tell its unique story.
Imagine a vertical farm irrigated by water harvested from the air, a Dutch technology powered by the sun’s rays coming in through colourful, low-tech plastic solar panels. Not only are you rewarded with cress, basil and other sprouting greens on the outside of this 19-metre-high cone, but within, the micro-climate allows for the growth of oyster mushrooms thanks to the humidity. Due to hygiene regulations, however, these edibles are not up for tasting.
“The pavilion itself should embody what we want to tell,” says Sandee. “If you want to be in the Sustainability District, then you cannot just talk the talk but you also have to walk the walk – our biotope has a very limited ecological footprint.”
The pavilion itself should embody what we want to tell. If you want to be in the Sustainability District, then you cannot just talk the talk but you also have to walk the walk – our biotope has a very limited ecological footprint.
The nexus of the three elements echoes the Netherlands’ deep history with each of them – from being the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products and services to having a centuries-long association with water as one-third of the country sits below sea level. “We have a heavy responsibility to make food production sustainable,” adds Sandee.
In recent years, the Dutch central government has been tapping into renewable sources of energy, as well, including solar, hydrogen and offshore wind energy.
Take a meandering trip into the biotope
The pavilion experience grants visitors the chance to be at the centre of the action – quite literally. Curious explorers will walk on a meandering path leading to the interior of the humid food cone whilst carrying umbrellas, which Sandee says will be distributed not for the rain shower created by the water-harvesting technology ‘Rainmaker’ but to add a sensory dimension to the journey.
Co-developed by SunGlacier Technologies and Dutch artist Ap Verheggen, the innovation uses a jutting chimney to fetch 800 litres of water daily from the desert air, some of which visitors will see showering down into the basin located at the base of the cone, all without getting wet.
And it is no ordinary chimney – inspired by the traditional wind towers built in the Arab world, the structure hosts an adiabatic cooling system that removes heat from evaporated water and releases it as cool air into the cone.
In this cool mushroom nursery surrounded by concentric rows of the fungus, visitors will also find LED displays and other immersive shows meant to prompt contemplative conversations about how we can unite water, energy and food – visuals for these are still under wraps for the pavilion debut.
Five artists to impart Dutch culture
Outside the micro-climate, visitors are invited to marvel at five cultural modules around the pavilion, recalling Sandee’s commitment to doing things differently with a markedly eccentric take on imparting Dutch culture.
“All the senses will be stimulated,” says Sandee, introducing the contribution of five Dutch artists who will be in charge of visually spotlighting technological innovations from the Netherlands.
- Birthe Leemeijer’s specially formulated perfume offers a snapshot of the Netherlands’ polders, land reclaimed from the sea using barriers, by capturing the scents of grass and hay, fresh milk and cattle. 'L’Essence de Mastenbroek', named after the 14th-century polder Mastenbroek, will perfume the pavilion via underground pipelines.
- Atelier Van Lieshout’s clocks serve as a momento mori that keeps the world on its toes – an urgent call to action before time runs out and the consequences become irreversible.
- Berndnaut Smilde will land Dutch clouds on Emirati soil. A cloud-maker, Smilde combines high humidity with fog and low temperatures to conjure nimbuses out of thin air. The momentary phenomenon is given permanence in photos.
- Theo Jansen’s otherworldly creatures are made of yellow plastic tubing and move with the help of the wind. 'Strandbeesten', or beach beasts, walk sideways like crabs, their skeletal forms a marriage of art and science.
- Kadir van Lohuizen directs his camera’s honest lens towards human impact on the world’s ecology. The photographer’s environmental record tells the tale of the losing battle between humanity and nature.
More than 130 events planned
In the pavilion’s auditorium and business lounge, the Netherlands will play host to every visitor. Clamant topics of climate and biodiversity, space technologies, urban and rural development, health and wellness and more will be dealt in line with Expo’s Theme Weeks.
“Our pavilion is for the daily visitors, but it is also for specific visitors coming from different countries, business communities and so on,” says Sandee. “Next to the experience itself, they can make use of the auditorium, [where] you can have TED talks, showcase your latest innovations and products and have meetings.”
With more than 130 activities planned, the Netherlands will open its pavilion to various artists, members of the private sector and academia, partners and entities. The Expo-allotted Dutch national day will also make headway on November 3, 2021.
For the first time ever, the Netherlands will join the UAE and Jordan to co-host a Water, Energy and Food Summit in January, 2022, during which the interlinked scarce resources will drive policy-making and initiate discussions on practical, actionable solutions.
A sustainable end to the pavilion
When walking into the business lounge of the pavilion, take a moment to look at the floor underneath you – it’s made of mycelium, vegetitative part of a fungus, courtesy of Italian firm Mogu.
The sustainability commitment runs so deep that even the steel façade is constructed from leased elements, to be dutifully returned once Expo closes its doors on March 31, 2022. Nothing but the barren desert sand will be left behind.
The Netherlands is your natural partner when it comes to overcoming [global challenges], and we can help you by sharing technology with the world, making sure that there is a sense of urgency with other people.
“The Netherlands is your natural partner when it comes to overcoming [global challenges], and we can help you by sharing technology with the world, making sure that there is a sense of urgency with other people,” adds Sandee.
The Commissioner General hopes that the Netherlands Pavilion will serve as a beacon of awareness, inspiring reflection among visitors to eventually arrive at the conclusion that steps must be taken to safeguard our home planet.
- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.