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Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai

The infrastructure of Expo 2020 Dubai: creating a complete city

In October 2020, Dubai will open the World Expo. But before then, a whole city is being created.

So how is this huge project coming along and how is it managed? We look at the infrastructure of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Ahmed Al Khatib, Senior VP, Expo 2020 Dubai is responsible for managing the site's infrastructure
Ahmed Al Khatib

Ahmed Al Khatib is the Chief Development and Delivery Officer for Expo 2020 Dubai. He oversees the delivery and management of the site’s masterplan, including its supporting utilities. This includes infrastructure services, roads, networks and transportation. He is also an important driver of the sustainability of the site. He spoke to Blooloop about managing such a large project.

Ahmed Al Khatib has a strong background in civil engineering and has worked on many well-known projects in and around Dubai during his career. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from a University in the United States, before studying for a Management Certificate at the London Business School.

“I started working on the roads, bridges and infrastructure in Dubai,” he says. “I was involved in a lot of mega-projects in the area. For example, the airport tunnel in Dubai, and The Palm Jumeirah Gateway Bridge.

“Then I moved on to work for [global investment holding company] Dubai Holding on national and international projects, before moving to Dubai World Trade Centre, where I was engaged with several other large projects.” 

Ahmed Al Khatib and the infrastructure of Expo 2020 Dubai

Given the size of the site and the scale of the projects, this is not a task for the faint-hearted. Ahmed Al Khatib explains why it is a challenge:

“In 2011, I became involved with Expo 2020 Dubai during the pre-bid stage, so I was part of the team that put together the masterplan for the World Expo. After we won the bid, I carried forward the mission. It is currently my job to work through the masterplan and actually bring the design and construction to life.”

“The site is 4.38 square km and I oversee 33 projects within the larger project. Those projects vary, from infrastructure and phone substations to roads and power. Many elements of this are located underground, so this had to be well prepared before the bigger construction starts.”

See also: 24 of the best country pavilions on show at Expo 2020 Dubai

A sizeable project

“We also have to consider the buildings, spread over that footprint of the site. There are smaller structures and iconic buildings, such as the three Thematic Pavilions and Al Wasl Plaza.

“We are also building parks, a shopping mall and the Expo Village. There are a lot of moving elements, as well as a lot of logistical challenges. Since day one, we have been aware of the size and the magnitude of this challenge, so we prepared very well. And we always keep updating our logistics plans and our risk registers to stay cautious and aware of any new possible challenges that we might face.”

World Expo Dubai opportunity district. Infrastructure for the world expo is now in place ahead of October

“The size of the project and its logistics, the coordination and the interfaces between all those projects is probably the most challenging part of the job.”

See also: A show like no other – arts and culture at Expo 2020 Dubai

A World Expo with environmental challenges

Ahmed Al Khatib says construction of Expo 2020 Dubai's thematic district is finished

Added to the sheer size and complexity of the site, there is also the challenge of the local environment. For example, the extreme desert heat during the peak of summer.

“Now, the weather is amazing in Dubai,” says Ahmed Al Khatib. “But we also have our hot summer season. We have strict working hours during the summertime, which we have to stick to by law. The workers don’t work in exposed areas directly in the sun, and we limit their working hours. It’s all moving very well so far.”

A large infrastructure

Ahmed Al Khatib’s role for Expo 2020 Dubai involves coordinating several different projects and stakeholders, in order to make the masterplan a reality. How does he manage all these different elements?

“The size of the project and the number of contractors and subcontractors on site is massive,” he says. “We reached our peak at more than 41,000 workers on site. So you can imagine the amount of coordination is huge.

“In order to manage it all, we made sure that we had the right team and the right expertise in place from the start. We also have two levels within our project: we have the programme level and we have the project level.”

Water feature Expo 2020 - infrastructure such as water and power is now in place for the world expo

“The programme level involves high-level monitoring. This stitches all the smaller projects together into one programme. Meanwhile, the more detailed project-level contains all the schedules. We use the latest software and technology to help us to manage this.

“The design interface is a very important component because any errors or clashes in the design will hold us up and we have a fixed deadline so everything has to be right the first time.”

See also: Expo Live – bringing together innovators from around the world

Technological solutions

Expo 2020's Thematic Districts at night

“We have created a digital ‘twin city’ to assist us during the infrastructure construction process,” says Ahmed Al Khatib. “The digital city echoes the real masterplan and the real site. When we run the software, it detects all the clashes and all the overlaps. It can identify level differences and any design errors that are within the data we put in.”

“We are able to detect any faults early – before we issue any construction drawings and before we appoint a contractor. This means that once the contractor is on board, we have a watertight design, which helps us to save costs and time.”

Ahmed Al Khatib and sustainability

Sustainability is more than just one of Expo 2020’s subthemes. It is a way of thinking that has underpinned the whole project from the beginning, as Ahmed Al Khatib explains:

Sustainability has always been very important to us since we first started designing the masterplan. Our hope is that by the completion of the project and the World Expo, we will have succeeded in introducing new practices and new innovations related to sustainability. We want to be able to roll those out across the country.

“We developed 41 key performance indicators related to sustainability. For example, in terms of construction, we developed sustainability materials guidelines. All our designers and contractors must implement those guidelines.”

See also: Inside Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

A sustainable infrastructure

It’s clear that this World Expo project takes this commitment to sustainability seriously, right down to the construction of its infrastructure.

“In 2018, we managed to divert 300,000 tonnes of construction waste away from landfill by recycling and reusing it. We also use about 30 per cent less water in our concrete construction mixture.”

Ahmed Al Khatib says the Sustainabiliy Pavilion is Platinum LEED certified

“More than 100 buildings across the Expo 2020 site are on track to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, or higher. Buildings including the Sustainability Pavilion are designed to meet LEED Platinum certification.”

“The Sustainability Pavilion generates about 4 gigawatts of power per year. This is enough to power the building and to provide excess power to the grid. The building also generates its own water from the humidity in the air, and this is used for irrigation and for greywater.”

See also: Sumathi Ramanathan on why Expo 2020 Dubai will be ‘one of the greatest destinations on earth’

Mobility and Opportunity

Alongside Sustainability, the other two subthemes are Opportunity and Mobility. These sit beneath Expo 2020 Dubai’s main theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. How all three subthemes connect, has been at the forefront – right from the start of the masterplan, too.”

public realm at Expo 2020 Dubai. Infrastructure for the world expo is now in place ahead of October

“Mobility is about the history of movement,” says Ahmed Al Khatib. “Not only in relation to shipments or transport, but also the movement of people, and the movement of information or data.

“Opportunity is about unlocking the potential in people. There are so many people around the world who have a lot of ideas and creativity but they need guidance and support. Opportunity is a very wide-reaching theme and also includes business opportunities.

Making connections

“Our masterplan looks like three petals. If you draw three circles that intersect together, they form three petals. Each petal represents one of the subthemes. There is an area in the centre where they overlap: this is the connection point.”

Al Wasl Plaza at Dubai's World Expo. Infrastructure for the world expo is now in place ahead of October

“On our map, that connection point is where Al Wasl Plaza is located – an area that connects the three subthemes together. An iconic architectural marvel, Al Wasl Plaza is going to be where the opening and closing ceremonies, main events and special day celebrations take place during Expo 2020.

“Al Wasl means ‘the connection’ in Arabic, and it is also the old name of Dubai. So it works perfectly with the main theme, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.”

Countdown to the next World Expo

Expo 2020 Dubai opens on 20 October 2020. While the world waits to see the spectacle unfold, how is the site looking from the ground?

“All Expo 2020-led construction of permanent structures is complete and we are on time. This includes 100 per cent of infrastructure, all the power sub-stations, the Thematic Districts, the Al Wasl dome, and others.”

“On 29 January 2020, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, blessed us with a visit. They inaugurated the Al Wasl dome, which was amazing.”

The Al Wasl dome

“The dome itself is fantastic. It is a 360-degree projection surface but it’s so much more than a screen. It provides an immersive experience and 360-degree projections, using the latest technology. The quality of the images is unreal. Along with the sound system, it provides a one-of-a-kind experience.

“The actual structure of the dome is unique, too. It was a challenge to build. But it was a highlight for me because it is so beautiful. The design reflects the logo of the Expo, as well. It is something that will be a memorable experience for the visitors when they come to Expo – it will always remind them of their trip here.”

Al Wasl Plaza, Dubai

“Eighty per cent of the Expo-built structures will stay on as part of District 2020 in the legacy phase. Participating countries who build their own pavilions will be able to dismantle them and take them home to repurpose in their country.”

A very special World Expo

For Ahmed Al Khatib, choosing a favourite part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s site is difficult.

“I love every building,” he says. “I always say it is like asking me which is my favourite child and I love them all, but Al Wasl Plaza is special, definitely. It was a difficult build process, but that makes it even more memorable for me. It’s a huge achievement.”

Al Wasl Plaza sunset Dubai 2020. Ahmed Al Khatib says Infrastructure of the site is now in place ahead of October

“Thirteen countries were involved in the building of the dome, from the US, China, Japan, Canada and more, as well as the UAE, so Al Wasl Plaza itself reflects the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’

“All these minds from across the world, and here in the UAE, connected through this iconic structure in Dubai. Now the infrastructure is in place, I am looking forward to the opening day when I can just take in the beauty of it all – of the whole Expo coming together.”

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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