PW_200128_EXPO202DUBAI_TERRA_1_Aerial View of the Expo 2020 Sustainability Pavilion or Terra-1580207242225
Aerial View of the Expo 2020 Sustainability Pavilion or Terra Image Credit: Supplied

The structure of Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion, at Expo 2020 Dubai is now complete and ready for fit-outs, says Andrew Whalley, Chairman and Partner of Grimshaw Architects that has designed the pavilion. Terra means and represents planet Earth and will be one of Expo’s signature experiences. It will take visitors on an immersive and emotional journey through the wonders of the natural world and teach us how to create a better, more sustainable future.

A net zero energy and water building

The pavilion, approximately covers 25,000 sqm (to give you an idea, The Louvre, Abu Dhabi is 24,000 sqm), with 6,300 sqm of exhibition area. It has been designed as a net zero energy and net zero water building, which means the pavilion generates all of its own power and water needs.

So how does it do that? The pavilion has more than 1,050 solar panels, arranged on the 130-metre wide canopy (think the size of five whales lined up) and on the locally-designed energy trees (e-trees) that dot the landscape and rotate to face the sun, like a sunflower. These produce four gigawatt hours per year of electricity — enough for a Nissan Leaf to drive halfway to Mars. They also have the capacity to charge 890,000 mobile phones.

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Andrew Whalley from Grimshaw Architects says the inspiration for Terra was the Eden Project in Cornwall UK Image Credit: Supplied

And how it generate its own water? The building uses the condensation in the air, recycles brackish water and has a technology that extracts humidity from the air to put it back into the building system to generate its water needs. Solar energy is then used to sterilize water and remove micro-bio-contaminants.

Whalley and his team designed the building first as a permanent structure for legacy and then re-designed it as a temporary structure for the six months of Expo 2020 Dubai. “The inspiration was the Eden Project in Cornwall,” he said. The Eden project is nestled inside a huge crater with massive biomes housing the largest rainforest in captivity, stunning plants, exhibitions and stories. The Sustainability Pavilion is also located partially below ground, with makes it be cooler than the ambient temperature, while its canopy also shades the pavilion from the sun. The canopy has 8,000 square metres of solar PV, with a 70m cantilever, and is shaped like a Ghaf tree that shades everything below and keeps the area cool.

So what will you see when you step inside Terra?

The Terra visitor experience includes:

• A walk through time in an Arabian wadi, where cheetahs and mega elephants roamed.

• An interactive walk through the roots of the forest, where every footstep affects the ‘wood-wide-web’.

• An exploration ‘under the ocean’ to discover the beauty and the mysteries contained within.

• A journey through consumption halls, uncovering the hidden harmful impacts of our choices.

• A meeting with ‘Gnasher’ – a giant consumption machine that shows how natural resources are being destroyed to make consumer products.

• An encounter with a deep sea fish whose system is clogged with discarded plastic waste.

• The Laboratory of Future Values – a hopeful space, showcasing solutions to the eco-challenges we’re facing.

“When you walk into Terra, you cross a dry river bed or a wadi before you enter a cool courtyard,’ said Whalley. The pavilion has used desert plants for most of the landscape to reduce the use of water. “We have used halophytes -- a salt-tolerant plant that grows in waters of high salinity -- in the gardens and reed beds that can filter and clean the water in the building. The walls of the auditoriums are also made from natural materials, such as reclaimed wood, terracotta and gabion rocks. The inner courtyard is made of raw steel – everything is natural, with very few paint finishes,” he said.

Crossing the courtyard, you can walk into the exhibition spaces that talk about the various challenges we face in the world today, such as loss of biodiversity, climate change, mass extinction of species and so on. These are complex issues but these are illustrated through immersive experiences. The idea is to teach visitors how to make a difference in today’s world by making simple lifestyle changes,” says Whalley.

Besides the main innovations gallery, Terra will also have a children’s gallery with its own playground where the key themes would include awareness about use of plastic, the need for recycling and deforestation – all illustrated through immersive experiences.

Finally, you can call it a day at the Terra café where all food and beverage will be sustainably sourced and packaged, and visitors will be able to learn where their food comes from and how it affects the environment.

Time at the pavilion: 45 minutes