Edifices that templated sustainable architecture at Expo 2020 Dubai, such as the Canada Pavilion will inspire future builds Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

ome of the most iconic buildings and monuments around the world were designed and constructed specifically for World Expos. Many of them have become symbolic of the city they were built in. For instance, It is difficult to think of Paris without picturing the Eiffel Tower, the centrepiece of the 1889 World Fair, the precursor of the World Expos.

In that sense, Expo 2020 Dubai will be remembered for its architectural richness that is at the core of the new smart city of the future. However, architects also point out to the lasting impact the Expo will have on the construction sector.

Emerging trends

Riad Bsaibes, President and CEO of Amana Investments, the leading regional design-build contractor that partnered in building the much-lauded Canadian Pavilion, says: “Historically, construction has lagged behind other sectors in productivity. But new technologies are unleashing a transformation in this traditionally slow-to-innovate sector.”

By leveraging the emerging growth trends of modular construction across its pavilions, Expo 2020 showcased a broad-scale disruption in the making.

According to Bsaibes, Expo 2020 has shown that largescale use of Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (or PPVC) is the answer to today’s needs. “In PPVC, the building components are first manufactured in an off-site factory, and then shipped to the site to be erected and completed. Up to 80 per cent of the construction can be shifted off-site, to the factory. This significantly reduces wastage compared to an open construction site, potentially reducing material waste by up to 30 per cent. A less wasteful society should be everyone’s goal and modular construction is helping bring much-needed circularity to the building sector. Final products are easily relocatable, further enabling the client to shift and relocate in sync with market demands. We shall see this in action, when some of the Expo pavilions will be relocated or recycled.”

Inspiring unique building solutions

While experts are of the view that Expo 2020 pavilions showcased incredible design possibilities, the fact remains that construction is about translating wonderful visions to built-reality.

Jason English, Chief Ecosystem Officer at CG Tech, which is behind Expo 2020’s two main stages – the Jubilee Stage and the Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre, says, “Expo 2020 highlighted diverse building styles, with a focus on sustainability, and all built - by design - to be demountable. For example, Sweden’s entire pavilion was built out of trees and natural woods, while Korea had rotating blocks that changed colour as well as the look and feel of the building. Other pavilions, such as the UAE, showcased unique designs that represent the country through symbols. The three entrance arches were made from an intricate web of carbon fibre structures, again showcasing new and unique ways of creating imposing, memorable entrances to the event.”

According to English, the build and design technology Expo 2020 utilised will become the norm. “Many pavilions at Expo will have inspired new ways of creativity, such as draping effects and natural lighting utilised. Some structures such as the Jubilee Stage and the Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre, which we built, were designed to be temporary fixtures. They needed to look and act as permanent features, with the ability to be demountable.”

Similarly, for the Canada Pavilion, Amana applied several best practices in sustainable design. Post-Expo, the Canadian pavilion material will be recycled or repurposed locally for future projects. Most of the finishes at the pavilion were made of recycled content, the flooring from polished concrete (recyclable content) and internal finishes from gypsum partitions, among others.

Expo 2020 has shown that modular construction is also an ideal solution to overcome the issue of labour shortages. “Modular buildings can be constructed within 50-75 per cent of the time of a conventional site-built project of comparable size,” says Bsaibes.

Pushing the envelope

Expo 2020 has been the perfect opportunity for architects and designers to learn about cutting-edge technology from around the world and apply them to solve problems at scale.

Fabidha Safar Rahman, founder of Design Matter, an award-winning design firm with projects across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and India, looks at the changes wrought by Expo 2020 holistically.

“There have been several visible changes since Expo 2020 – such as the attention being given to urban development, pedestrian spaces and green spaces,” says Rahman. “The sudden spurt in NFTs globally and its growth and promotion in the UAE during this year’s art season; encouraging the use of bikes; and something as simple as reducing consumption of bottled water.”

Expo 2020 has also given a fillip to BMS (building management solutions), according to Alan George, who manages Orange Design Group’s bespoke, residential and hospitality projects, and the founder of the aForm show, an architecture & design podcast focusing on the GCC.

“BMS has been a part of the design industry but its use has been fairly two-dimensional,” he says. “However, the Expo truly shows how smart data can be harnessed with minimal intervention. These in turn, can be processed via artificial intelligence which magically gives rise to new patterns and opportunities. Examples of this were seen at various scales throughout the Expo pavilions.”

Expo 2020 Dubai remains a textbook study for architects and designers. As George concludes: “It would be a challenge to find an architect or designer in the city who was not impressed by Expo 2020. Its scale is inspiring. It truly was a snap shot of the macro design community globally. There was something to inspire everyone connected to architecture and design.”