An Arabic calligraphy-inspired bench at the Expo 2020 Dubai site that reads 'At-Tawaasal', meaning 'communication'. Image Credit: Expo 2020 Dubai

Dubai: When you take a breather at the Expo 2020 Dubai site, pay attention to the benches you are resting on; they are works of art. British architect Asif Khan and Lebanese typographer Lara Captan have created 50 calligraphy inspired seats based on the Arabic script for the show.

How they picked the words

The selection process began on social media platforms, where Expo followers were asked to pick words to describe the upcoming mega-event, its subthemes (opportunity, sustainability and mobility) and the UAE.

The crowdsourced lexicon was further polished in a workshop of 30 young Emirati professionals, who were in charge of the final selection of the words along with deciding on the placement of the benches.

Museum of the Future
Arabic calligraphy is etched into the very fabric of the nation. The Museum of the Future, based in the heart of Dubai's Business District, adorns intricate Arabic script on its elliptical facade. Image Credit: Supplied

Brush up on your Arabic

Each bench comes with an informational plaque that defines the Arabic word for the visitor. What’s more, the material and the design will mimic the word it forms – for instance, the bench forming ‘vision’ is transparent while the bench for the word ‘dream’ is made up of hammocks.

Careful and detailed planning also extends to the regional and international meanings of the words, the location of the benches and even the length of the words.

On the one hand, you might come across some benches that form long and sweeping words, allowing you to sit by yourself in contemplation. Words that are shorter and circular, on the other hand, are meant to stir conversations.

Where are the benches located?

The script-based benches will be dispersed across the 438-hectare site, particularly throughout the three Thematic Districts (Opportunity, Sustainability and Mobility Districts) and at the site’s four entrances, which include the district gates and the metro entrance.

NAT The Expo 2020 Dubai Entry Portals 1434-1581329244960
Asif Khan, a London-based architect, designed the benches as well as the site's Public Realm and the carbon-fibre Entry Portals (pictured) stationed at the entrance of each Thematic District. Image Credit: Courtesy: Helene Binet

Who are the creators?

Renowned British architect, Asif Khan, is the designer behind not only the sculpted benches but also Expo’s Public Realm as well as the Entry Portals — the three lofty carbon-fibre gates that will greet the visitors coming in from each district.

With his own studio based in East London, the award-winning architect has worked on various global projects ranging from the ‘MegaFaces’ pavilion for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics to the Hyundai pavilion, the darkest building in the world, for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

Lara Captan, another creative behind the benches, has been designing Arabic typefaces since 2015. The independent typeface designer aims to push the Arabic type to its full potential, advocating for graphic diversity and deeper knowledge of the script’s type design.

The American University of Beirut alumna worked with a diamond-shaped grid used in Arabic typography as her starting point to design the words for the benches.

In addition to her Expo 2020 project, Captan is the co-founder of an intensive educational programme, ‘Arabic Type Design – Beirut (ATDB)’, along with lettering artist Kristyan Sarkis, launched to introduce the Arabic script tradition and create more contemporary typefaces.

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.