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The ‘Thematic Districts’ created a new piece of city and a backdrop to the work of more than 136 countries participating at Expo 2020, Dubai. Our challenge was to design something which would meet the highly functional, temporary needs of exhibitors, but would also adapt easily to future uses to deliver a lasting legacy project. Culturally sensitive, highly sustainable and designed at a human scale, the thematic districts created a distinctive and coherent overall identity for this edition of the global innovation showcase.
Conceived as a modern interpretation of the ‘oasis’, contemporary design is combined with traditional motifs and landscape to create a coherent aesthetic in the middle of the desert. The grain of the place is deliberately intimate and conducive to wandering and discovery. Tree-lined streets punctuated by courtyards are reminiscent of Old Dubai and offer visitors an area surrounded by scented indigenous planting in which to relax and listen to the sounds of birdsong and running water. The main shading structures are inspired by date palms, yet offer a technology advanced solution to shading and wayfinding.
Responding to climate and context, the project achieved significant sustainability objectives and was awarded LEED Gold. The design accommodates the intense, temporary and highly functional needs of the Expo Exhibition itself, with built-in flexibility to adapt to future uses. A modular system was used for speed and efficiency of construction.
The project created over 80 new permanent buildings which will now be adapted to create a vibrant new quarter for the city with housing and workspace for start-ups. More than 80% of the structures will remain in some form. The original tight, pedestrianised grain lends itself to the creation of a family-friendly district, with cycling the main form of transport and fulfils the key legacy objectives to emphasise well-being and promote an active, balanced lifestyle.