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Details of World Expo 2020 hub revealed

Ahmad Al Khatib, the man in-charge of delivering the Expo 2020 Dubai site, tells PW what makes Al Wasl Plaza the heart of the spectacular global event

Sept 12 - ORE Blog Expo 2020

Halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, covering an area of 4.38 sq km in Dubai South, is where the most diverse World Expo ever is going to be staged starting in October 2020.

Millions of visitors will see the event unfold and hear the story of human ingenuity. Most importantly, they will witness the UAE’s belief in inclusivity, collaboration, diversity and innovation.

One of the main objectives of the Expo 2020 is to facilitate a global dialogue, bringing to life the main theme of “Connecting minds, creating the future”, and seamlessly integrating the three sub-themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability.

The site is being designed to embody these concepts and draws inspiration from local urban design, architecture and the natural environment.

At the core of the master plan are three distinct petal-shaped thematic districts, each focused on one of the subthemes, which will converge at the central Al Wasl Plaza, the figurative and literal heart of the Expo 2020 Dubai site.

In an exclusive interview with Property Weekly, Ahmad Al Khatib, vice-president of real estate and delivery of Expo 2020 Dubai, talks about Al Wasl Plaza, a first-of-its-kind public amenity that will provide a complete immersive experience to visitors and be an inspiration to people around the world.

While the Expo will be a festival where everyone can learn, innovate and have fun by sharing ideas and working together, Al Wasl Plaza (wasl is Arabic for "connection") will be the space that at once reflects the heritage of the country and its vision of a future where nature and technology are integrated in a sustainable way.

Interview excepts:

The Plaza is the central hub of the Expo 2020 site. What kind of unique experience will it provide?

Other than the name of Al Wasl Plaza, which is the old name of Dubai, the central hub of Expo 2020 is very close to our hearts and we must make it something unique and different from any other public area of Dubai. The Plaza will add to the rich components of Dubai’s tourist attractions and as a destination will showcase our traditions and customs during the Expo and the legacy.

Can you talk about the main components of the plaza?

The plaza will be 150m in diameter, while its horizontal space will be 16,000 sq m in area. This area will be used to host events for at least 10,000-15,000 people even after the Expo. The plaza will connect the three thematic districts of Opportunity, Sustainability and Mobility, as well as the other main concourses, including the Dubai Metro link and the UAE Pavilion through its seven entrances and exits.

The landscape of the plaza will showcase our local environment and it will be a learning experience for all the visitors during the Expo and its legacy. To have a complete immersive experience, we have focused on the five senses, like the sound, the smell, the feel, the vision. 

So, it’s not only about enjoying the area, it’s what you experience when you hear the sound of water, the sound of trees.

The other major component of the project is the trellis, which is the dome. We are looking here at a huge structure here that will have a 360-degree horizontal screen and the two functions of the trellis are aligned to maximise the shading and projecting surfaces, ensuring a high-quality experience.

Will the trellis be constructed on-site?

Because of the size of the trellis (we are looking at a structure that is about 65m-70m high at the crest), it is up to the contractor, of course, how they want to construct it.

Most likely, it will be assembled outside and erected on-site. And what’s unique is that we have clear KPIs on sustainability and the environment. 

From dropping the temperature and making sure to reflect a certain amount of radiation, all of this has only one objective — to create a comfortable experience for the visitors.

Is it a huge task to control the temperature?

This is a challenge that we are working on. The technology is proven and the engineering and science is there to achieve that.

We are not just constructing the trellis for the months from October to April, but we are building for the legacy. We have very special consultants working with us to make such techniques successful. 

We are also counting a lot on the water features, the plants and the passive design of the surrounding buildings that will create a wind tunnel effect. With all these features, we are very confident that we will achieve a temperature drop.

Architecturally, what are the key design elements of Al Wasl Plaza?

The key design elements are The Room, The Garden and The Trellis. Al Wasl is conceived as a memorable public urban room that is defined by the surrounding buildings. 

They widen as they ascend and look out onto the plaza, helping to achieve the enclosure that defines The Room. The space contained and defined by the adjacent buildings is conceived as The Garden. 

This has been designed to provide visitors with a comfortable and natural experience, yet can also be transformed to house public events on a grand scale or smaller events.

The garden is shaded and protected by the trellis, which filters sunlight through its translucent skin and, in turn, provides a 360-degree projection surface — providing visitors an incredible, immersive experience.

What will be the flow like between the hub and the other thematic pavilions?

The Expo 2020 site has four main gates: the Mobility gate, Sustainability gate and the Opportunity gate. 

Coming from the Metro gate, the Al Wasl will be the first receiving area. We looked closely at the Metro gate to ensure how we can create equal distribution of pressure among the four gates. 

The Metro gate has a metro, so we expect more visitors coming through the Metro gate. The Al Wasl Plaza is also the main receiving area for people coming to the Metro. So everyone coming in from the four gates will meet and connect at the Al Wasl Plaza.

The Plaza will be framed by the UAE Pavilion?

Yes, and we are being very careful to ensure the integrity between the Al Wasl Plaza and the structure of the UAE Pavilion. 

The design of the UAE Pavilion, by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, will include special visitor lounges and exhibition areas to showcase the UAE to visitors from around the world, and we are looking very carefully at how to integrate both designs.

Can you talk about the other buildings around Al Wasl Plaza?

The Plaza will be surrounded by five buildings. If you are staying in those buildings, you can see what’s going on through the trellis. During the Expo, these buildings will not be utilised as offices and residential areas because these are within the secured boundary of the site. But we are building for legacy, so there will be people living and working here after the Expo.

How would people navigate around the Expo 2020 site?

There will be golf carts to navigate, but this is more of a public area, with F&B components. When there are no big events, the area will host small shows.

Tell us about the Expo’s legacy plans?

Our legacy plans are wide-ranging and ambitious. Our vision is that Expo 2020 Dubai will continue to foster innovation and create meaningful partnerships that will live beyond 2020, not only for the UAE, but also for the region. 

Even Al Wasl Plaza is built to play a central role — literally and metaphorically — in this legacy plan. It will be a focal point of development in the area. We are creating something that will live beyond the Expo. We want an area that will be etched in people’s minds forever.

When is it scheduled to be completed?

We are trying to complete everything by October 2019. We need to finish early as this will give us enough time to test from security and operations perspective.

How does it feel to be part of such a huge project?

I don’t consider it as work; it is my passion. I have been involved since the 2012 bidding stage and I would like to believe that Expo 2020 Dubai will be a benchmark for all future Expos.

Nag, E. (12 September 2017). Details of World Expo 2020 hub revealed. Gulf News retrieved from http://gulfnews.com/business/property/details-of-world-expo-2020-hub-revealed-1.2088677