With less than 100 days to go until Expo 2020 Dubai begins, we spoke to Anoosha AlMarzouqi, Director of the Opportunity Pavilion, to find out more about what visitors can expect when it opens this October.
Despite the setback of last year’s COVID-19-related postponement, preparations for Expo 2020 Dubai are continuing apace. The event, which aims to be the World’s Greatest Show, will open to the public on 1 October 2021 and run for six months, until 31 March 2022.
See also: UK innovation on show at Expo 2020 Dubai
Key themes of Expo 2020 Dubai
This will be the first World Expo to take place in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. World Expos are a celebration of innovation, collaboration and creation. This year’s event in Dubai has taken on the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.
It also has three sub-themes: Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity, each with its own dedicated district and pavilion. Meanwhile, each of the countries taking part will also choose one of the three themes to explore within their pavilion. Located within a 4.38 square kilometre site, these three thematic districts are organised around the central Al Wasl Plaza.
This is also home to the stunning Al Wasl Dome – the largest 360-degree projection surface in the world
Al Wasl Plaza will be where the opening and closing ceremonies, main events and special day celebrations take place. Over the course of the six months, there will be live events and cultural performances. Each country will also hold its own National Day celebration.
There will be 191 countries participating in Expo 2020 Dubai. For each of these, it is an opportunity to showcase their latest technology, alongside their culture, heritage, music and culture.
The Opportunity District
The Opportunity District will allow visitors to explore the interconnectedness of our lives and actions. It will highlight innovations from across the globe that have the potential to make dreams into reality and shape the future.
Attractions here include the UK pavilion where guests can help to co-create an ever-changing message on the outside of the building with AI, and the Ukraine pavilion which takes a deep dive into future technologies.
At the heart of the Opportunity District lies Mission Possible – the Opportunity pavilion. Here, visitors will find out how even the smallest of actions can have a big impact. They will be invited to join a global mission, follow in the footsteps of mentors and pledge to help make a brighter future.
For Anoosha AlMarzouqi, her role as Pavilion Director was itself an opportunity of a lifetime:
“Ever since 2013, when the UAE was awarded the right to host Expo 2020, I wanted to contribute to, and be part of, Expo 2020. One day, I saw an interesting vacancy and I applied and the rest, as they say, is history…”
Before joining Expo 2020 Dubai, AlMarzouqi worked in the strategy and policy department of the UAE Prime Minister’s Office. Here, she was part of the team that developed the UAE Government Strategy 2011-2013 and the UAE Vision 2021, reviewed social policies in conjunction with the relevant federal government entities and also helped remodel the UAE Government Leaders Programme.
“It was a very exciting time,” she says. “Also my work experience and my master’s degree in international development are strongly in alignment with Mission Possible – The Opportunity Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Now, in this role, I am responsible for all aspects of the pavilion and its visitor experience. The Opportunity Pavilion aspires to empower visitors to take an active role in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a global call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.”
Mission Possible – the Opportunity Pavilion
The Opportunity Pavilion’s exhibition, Mission Possible, takes inspiration from the Expo’s key theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.
“This is based on the belief that innovation and progress are the results of people and ideas coming together in inspiring new ways,” says AlMarzouqi.
“Opportunity is one of Expo 2020’s three key subthemes, alongside Mobility and Sustainability. These are all areas we see as essential to building a better world for everyone).
“This sub-theme seeks to unlock the potential of individuals and communities to shape a better world. It is closely aligned with the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SGDs are a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.
“Mission Possible’s interactive exhibition experience will bring these SDGs to life for visitors. Expo will show how each and every one of us has the opportunity to make a difference for the better. We will show how small steps can lead to big changes, and also how unlocking opportunity at a local level can be used for the greater global good.”
Terracotta and mesh design
The Opportunity Pavilion itself is designed by AGi Architects, and its design focuses on two elements: terracotta and mesh.
“Terracotta is used throughout the pavilion and its facade to represent the earth that we come from. Meanwhile, the pavilion’s mesh canopy represents the clouds and our dreams which we aspire to achieve. This made out of steel and mesh and is ‘floating’ 32 metres above the ground,” explains AlMarzouqi.
“Central to all of this is the pavilion’s plaza. Plazas have historically been gathering spaces for people to come together to create. This is a nod to Expo’s theme and also the importance of convening and collaboration that underpin the SDGs.”
The visitor experience inside the Opportunity Pavilion
Inside the striking building, the visitor experience, designed by ALEC FITOUT and ICARIA Atelier will look at three key resources. These are water, food and energy.
“The pavilion’s experience includes a tour through three ‘tracks’ that focus on water, food and energy. We chose these resources because they are basic human needs and essential for progress,” says AlMarzouqi.
“Each track is brought to life by expert guides from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. They present simple steps in their community – solutions that have required little resources or investment – which have had a life-changing impact. Through this experience, we are looking to galvanise our visitors to create a change, no matter how simple.”
The pavilion also houses the Best Practice Area, showcasing projects from the Expo 2020 Global Best Practice Programme. These are simple solutions that are already making big leaps towards creating a better world.
Sustainability at Expo 2020 Dubai
While the pavilion is dedicated to Opportunity, it also connects with the other two key themes, Sustainability and Mobility.
AlMarzouqi says: “As part of the visitor experience, people whose ideas have brought meaningful, lasting impact to their communities share stories of how their lives have transformed beyond access to water, food and energy – demonstrating the interdependency of the SDGs.”
“Through these, we not only see localised advances in achieving the SDGs but also witness the sheer human potential in each of us, as we strive towards a better future for people and the planet on which we live.
In fact, the concept of sustainability runs through everything at the Expo. From its construction and infrastructure to the ideas it explores, as well as the long-term plan for the site after the event closes next year.
“Expo 2020 Dubai aims to be one of the most sustainable World Expos in history. It also supports the UAE’s efforts as a champion of sustainable development,” says AlMarzouqi.
“We have integrated sustainability into every aspect of our journey. We want to create a meaningful impact that reaches beyond the site and beyond the six months of the event.”
“Pivotal strategies include initiatives and best practices that minimise our energy and water demand and use next-generation technology. Thanks to our partnership with Siemens, for example, more than 130 buildings across the Expo site will be fitted with smart building technologies. This supports our efforts to maximise energy efficiency, safety and security, as well as visitor comfort.
As a result of these green practices, Expo 2020 Dubai is on track to achieve LEED Gold Certification or higher for more than 100 Expo-led permanent buildings.
Meanwhile, eight infrastructure projects have achieved an ‘Excellent’ rating under CEEQUAL, the highest possible rating given by the internationally recognised sustainability assessment for civil engineering, for the 4.38 square kilometre site and supporting infrastructure.
“In addition, we are working closely with technology partners, including Accenture, Cisco, SAP and Digital14 to deliver an unforgettable visitor experience for millions of people. Together, we also have the potential to make a significant contribution to Expo’s long-term impact in the UAE and beyond.”
Expo 2020 Dubai and COVID019
The outbreak of the global pandemic at the end of 2019 was undoubtedly a blow to Expo 2020 Dubai. The event was originally set to open in October 2020.
In March 2020, the event’s Steering Committee made a proposal to postpone the event by one year. Then, in April 2020 the Executive Committee agreed unanimously to put forward the official proposal to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai.
Changing the dates required the agreement of a majority of the Member States of the BIE (Bureau International des Expositions). This two thirds-majority was achieved at a virtual meeting in May 2021 and the official announcement was then made. It was clear that continuing as planned was impossible.
Health and safety a priority
Speaking about how COVID-19 has affected strategy across Expo 2020 Dubai, the Opportunity Pavilion Director says:
“The health, safety and well-being of everyone visiting and working at Expo 2020 Dubai has been, and continues to be, our number one priority.”
The health, safety and well-being of everyone visiting and working at Expo 2020 Dubai has been, and continues to be, our number one priority
“We have acted quickly and responsibly to meet the challenges of COVID-19. We introduced a number of precautionary measures across the site. These are in line with the latest guidance from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the World Health Organization.
“This includes sanitisation stations across the site, mandatory face-mask wearing and the implementation of stringent social-distancing regulations. There is also more deep cleaning and specialised medical facilities, including provisions for rapid COVID testing.
“We will continue to monitor and adjust these measures as necessary, as our opening date of October 1 approaches and the situation continues to evolve.”
The Opportunuty Pavilion will be a special experience
As the countdown to Expo 2020 Dubai continues, excitement is building. Now, AlMarzouqi is looking forward to welcoming visitors to what she says is a very special building:
“Each track in the Opportunity Pavilion is special and powerful in its own way. I love how relatable each of the tracks is. Even though the stories are from different parts of the world and the circumstances are different from ours.”
“One of the highlights of my experience working on the pavilion was identifying the guides, meeting them and speaking to them, as well as others in the community whose lives have changed from the actions of the guides.”
Tickets to go on sale
Expo 2020 Dubai tickets will go on sale worldwide from 18 July 2021. There will be three ticket tiers. One-day tickets will cost AED 95 ($26) while multi-day tickets cost AED 195 ($53). There are also season passes, priced at AED 495 ($135). Tickets include access to all the pavilions, as well as events and live performances.
Children under the age of 18 and students from any academic institution in the world can attend for free.
Looking ahead to the event in October, AlMarzouqi says:
“It is one of the first global mega-events to take place since the pandemic began. So, Expo 2020 comes at a critical time.
“To see more than 200 organisations, plus millions of visitors from around the globe coming together to join the making of a new world, and experience a six-month celebration of creativity, innovation, human progress and culture will be truly special.”
All images kind courtesy of Expo 2020 Dubai