Almost a thousand years ago, Marco Polo explored the Silk Road, the lands of the East, and never even imagined that his Venice would one day become a candidate for the world capital of sustainability in the Middle East. Venice, that timeless oasis, where the past, the future and achievable futures inevitably merge every day to secure its very survival; a fascinating ecosystem to be defended and a historic symbol of Italian beauty in the world. Expo 2020 Dubai was the place chosen by Venice for this nomination, a perfect occasion to raise global awareness of the challenges of our century: safeguard the world in which we live, the only one we really know, the greatest inheritance humanity has been given, and preserve it for the generations to come. This extraordinary Expo was held in a complex historical moment, right at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dubai ably faced this long emergency without renouncing on this big international event by preparing for it even more meticulously, to ensure the best possible safety for all involved. In fact, building sites remained constantly open, even in the darkest moments, which allowed them to complete the infrastructure for the Expo area and all of the countries pavilions.
"Connecting Minds and Creating the Future" through sustainability, mobility and opportunity, was the first objective of the 2022 Expo, the first ever to be held in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region. It is an ‘opportunity’ to showcase the potential of individuals and communities for a better future; ‘mobility’ through innovative transportation and communication systems, in complete safety for persons and property, and ‘sustainability’ in terms of accessibility and the resilience of our planet’s natural resources, be it energy or the environment.
A message from Italy to the world
Italy chose to express at its best right in the field of sustainability. A winning choice that led it to be recognised at the Construction Innovation Awards as “the most innovative project”. The Italian Pavilion was designed by a first-class team of architects that counts the likes of Carlo Ratti, Italo Rota, Matteo Gatto and F&MIngegneria, and was judged by Paolo Glisenti, a long-standing commissioner with a proven track record.
Italy’s pavilion was among the most ever visited, out of the 192 pavilions on the site. More than one million in-person visitors walked through the Pavilion’s gate and another 10 million virtual users were engaged since the Universal Exposition’s inception, through hundreds of activities and live streaming events organised by the Pavilion, on the social media, website and the involved online communities.
An exhibition trail featuring installations that embody the essence of innovation and sustainability; brilliant works of ingenuity by Italian realities, all presented alongside a varied programme of scientific, cultural and artistic initiatives. Impressive to behold, the 27-metre-high pavilion covers a surface area of 3.500 square metres. A vibrant exhibition space that represents the very best of contemporary Italian talent. In Expo 2022, Italy brought a medley of eclectic experiences from small, medium and large companies, that have sapiently joined forces, perfectly offsetting the capabilities of the other, to showcase the very best from the world of construction parts, systems, technology and scenic design, as well as the field of digital architecture.
An open-air pavilion, with its roof topped by three hulls of a boat, separated from the exterior by a ‘façade’ made from nautical-style ropes, natural airflow providing increased safety against the risk of Covid-19 transmission. This concept also allowed a sustainable, energy-saving approach, as it avoided the use of indoor air-conditioning, which was instead used in many of the other pavilions. The underlying principle was the circular economy: the constructions were made of mostly organic or recycled materials, namely water, seaweed, orange peel, coffee, wood and sand. Four key concepts encapsulate the project’s sustainability: it is a pavilion that breathes (seaweed instead of air conditioning), eats (all the materials from which it is made are in some way compostable), feels (the lighting system can perceive and react to the visitors emotions in real-time) and it listens and responds to the visitor’s questions (again in real-time) on climate change in a given place.
An extremely safe pavilion, moreover, so much that has been certified, which is incidentally the first time this has ever happened. This certificate covers not only the materials and the components from which it is made, but also the event itself, thanks to the know-how and experience of RINA, which certified the sustainability of the event and the Italian Pavilion site in accordance with ISO 20121 standards. All requirements that ensure that the environmental and community impact of the event is kept to a minimum, helping to strengthen stakeholder relations, from local authorities and suppliers right the way through to workers, participants and visitors. The choice of materials used for the interior was based on a zero-plastic waste policy and complies with the Circular Plastics Alliance declaration, in alignment with the new, ‘Circular Economy Action Plan’ adopted by the European Commission.
Italy has been able to demonstrate its good practice in relation to sustainability and compare itself against other countries that are facing the challenges of the Green economy, something that has been made possible by the constant exchange of knowledge and skills between students, professors and universities from across the globe. After all, these types of events do have a direct and significant impact on the environment, given the presence of more than 20-million visitors from all over the world.
The theme “Beauty Connects People” represented us as a community; it is a unifying factor in the genius and talent of our country. In fact, the Italian Pavilion was the outcome of an architecture that has been specifically designed to creatively and innovatively showcase the concepts of connecting nations, talent, ingenuity, the cultural inheritance of the Mediterranean, and building bridges towards the future. A majestic, full-sized ‘David’ by Michelangelo, reproduced using a 3D printer, and placed at the heart of the pavilion, highlights one of the most beautiful and magnificent aspects of Italy: our highest traditions; almost a heritage and a promise for a future filled with hope and respect for the world we live in.
How the Expo 2020 Dubai site is changing
As an extraordinary exposition, Dubai 2020 managed to take on the challenge of this unprecedented pandemic. It is an important example of the limitless bounds of the things humans can achieve when we work together to build a better future. A future that could see the Italian Pavilion becoming a permanent fixture in Dubai, even after the exhibition ended on the 31st, March, becoming an integral part of the research centre that the Arab Emirates had devised to capitalise on the legacy of the event. It could possibly even become a higher education centre for the recovery and restoration of works of art and archaeological finds damaged by natural catastrophes, which will be digitally reproduced using the same techniques used for Michaelangelo’s David. A still imaginary, Arabian-Mediterranean campus for all those curious and ambitious, yet to be Marco Polo’s who will pass down Italy’s DNA.
As far as it concerns the Expo physical site as a whole, instead, it will become a smart city, named District 2020. A temporary closure for nearly six-nine months is foreseen to make up an intelligent citadel. The 80 percent of actual structures will be held and upgraded for the future needs, accounting for a total 260,000 square meters surface area.
The current Al Wasl Plaza, the iconic landmark of Expo Dubai 2020, will still function as a comunitary place for large events, connecting hotels and offices. The area known as “Terra”, The Sustainability Pavilion, is becoming a “Children and Science Center”. The “Alif” area, Mobility Pavilion, will host a modern shopping mall. The United Arab Emirates’ Pavilion, an impressive falcon-shaped structure, is turning into a cultural center.
The present “Flow Pavilion”, an Expo 2020 Dubai global commercial partner, DP World, will remain as a permanent facility reserved to innovation and instruction in the field of commercial logistic.
The three areas forming the Expo Thematic District, Opportuniy, Sustainability and Mobility, will see new commercial and residential areas. The innovative tomorrow’s service station by ENOC, the first ever LEED Platinum certified worldwide, will still serve the public after the event, in District 2020.
The future District 2020 will officially open its doors starting from October 2022, aiming at welcoming a 145,000 inhabitants population. This sounds really amazing, if you think that this was an endless desert, just a few years ago.