Expo Countdown

Eyeing a better future

Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion has been opened to the public.

It is five years almost to the day since the ground was broken to host the region’s first World Expo.  Since then, a new exhibition city has been created boasting awe-inspiring structures designed by some of the best architects in the world. Many of these have been built by the UAE’s own talent pool in the construction industry.

To date, more than 225 million work hours have gone into creating one of the most spectacular World Expo sites ever created.

It was in March 2016 that site development began and Expo 2020 revealed its new logo – inspired by a ring found at the Saruq Al Hadid archaeological site in Dubai – that represents the UAE’s role in connecting ancient civilisations and as a hub that continues to connect the world. Expo 2020 Dubai’s theme is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.  The event indeed will have far-reaching goals and implications as it will bring the entire world together, which is currently collectively battling the throes of the pandemic. More than 200 countries, plus companies, international organisations and educational institutions will participate in the six-month event that will shed light on the biggest challenges facing our world, and inspire a collective movement towards building a better future for all.

Mission Possible – the Opportunity Pavilion.

Mission Possible – the Opportunity Pavilion.

Located within the Dubai South district, close to Al Maktoum International Airport, the Expo 2020 site covers an area of 4.38 sq km – approximately 2 sq km of which will form the Expo gated area, featuring individual country pavilions, food and retail options, as well as state-of-the-art conference and meeting spaces and entertainment areas.

The remaining 2.4 sq km will feature supporting amenities and facilities, including the Expo 2020 Village for participant and staff accommodation, warehousing, logistics, transport nodes, hotels, retail facilities and a public park.

In line with its theme, Expo 2020 Dubai has been categorised into three Thematic Districts to reflect the subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability and each will also include performance spaces, innovation galleries and art installations and outdoor parks and gardens.

These Thematic Districts include:

•  Opportunity Pavilion, which will encourage visitors to think and live differently and to make a meaningful contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 objectives designed to ensure a good basic quality of life for everyone;

•  Mobility Pavilion, which will explore the movement of people, goods, ideas and data, and how mobility has driven humanity’s development.

• Sustainability Pavilion, which will tell the story of humankind’s relationship with nature and is designed to empower visitors to understand their impact on the environment and become agents of change.

Linking the three Thematic Districts is Al Wasl Plaza, named after the Arabic word for ‘connection’ and the iconic centrepiece of Expo 2020.


Al Wasl Plaza ... the iconic centrepiece of Expo 2020.

Al Wasl Plaza ... the iconic centrepiece of Expo 2020.

Progress on site

Today, the three Thematic Districts stand ready as is all permanent Expo-led construction.

This includes Al Wasl Plaza – the focal point of the six-month-long celebration of creativity, innovation, humanity and world cultures – which was inaugurated in January 2020.  It will host major ceremonies and celebrations that will connect people – both during and after Expo 2020 – with the venue’s steel trellis dome, an engineering marvel, acting as an immersive 360-degree projection surface that can be viewed from both inside and outside. 

The Expo Entry Portals - woven from carbon fibre to create 21-m-high, mashrabiya-style lattices – were unveiled in the following month.

Although all Expo-led construction was  completed well in time to host the world-class show earmarked for October last year, Expo 2020 was postponed on May 4 by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) Member States – the intergovernmental organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos – due to the coronavirus pandemic that continues to rage around the globe.

On 29 May 2020, the new dates of 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022 were officially approved by the BIE with the event retaining the name ‘Expo 2020 Dubai’.

Now set to be held this year, the event will also mark an important milestone for the UAE as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Emirati state.

Alif – the Mobility Pavilion.

Alif – the Mobility Pavilion.

The first of the three Thematic Districts, Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion, has been open to the public from January 22 as part of the Expo’s Pavilions Premiere, which offers visitors a preview of Thematic Pavilions and will provide a glimpse of what is to come when Expo 2020 Dubai opens. The other two districts, Alif – the Mobility Pavilion and Mission Possible – the Opportunity Pavilion, will follow later.

The iconic Terra pavilion, designed by world-renowned Grimshaw Architects, sets an example for sustainable building design. Built to be net-zero for both energy and water, it features 1,055 photovoltaic panels arranged on a 130-m-wide roof canopy and atop a series of ‘Energy Trees’. The pavilion also uses cutting-edge water-reduction strategies, along with water recycling and alternative water sources.

With the completion of the Expo structures, work over the past year has focused on landscaping the Expo site and fitting out the Expo-owned buildings.

Meanwhile, more than 200 participating countries are working on constructing and completing their pavilion plots. For the first time in World Expo history, every country will have its own pavilion. Expo 2020 will also move away from traditional geographical clusters, and band together countries facing similar challenges within the three subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.

Most of these pavilions boast innovative designs (see Page 44).

Other key components of the site include Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC), a state-of-the-art venue ideal for conferences, concerts, gala dinners, exhibitions, product launches and award ceremonies among other events, will be a world-class venue with 45,000 sq m of flexible space. It will be a major draw for the MICE industry during the six months of the world-class event and play a key role in Expo’s legacy plans, attracting domestic and international visitors to the heart of District 2020.

The Entry Portals were woven from carbon fibre to create 21-m-high, mashrabiya-style lattices

The Entry Portals were woven from carbon fibre to create 21-m-high, mashrabiya-style lattices

Among the UAE-based companies that are playing a lead role in the construction effort are Al-Futtaim Carillion, Khansaheb, Besix, Tristar Engineering and Al Naboodah Construction.

Work on site has been carried out with careful attention to the health and safety of the workers, according to Expo 2020 Dubai, which has earned it the British Safety Council’s Sword of Honour, in recognition of the organisation’s dedication to ensuring the health, safety and well-being of its workforce. 

The British Safety Council is one of the world’s leading health and safety bodies, with the London-based charity providing training in more than 50 countries.

Dr Rob Cooling, Operational Head, Health & Safety Operations, Expo 2020 says: “The health, safety and well-being of our workforce is Expo 2020’s greatest priority, and we are extremely proud that our ongoing efforts have been recognised by the council.”

“We take our responsibilities toward our workers very seriously, with the entire Expo 2020 team committed to maintaining the policies we have set down as part of our Better Together strategy.”

The policies set out as part of Expo 2020’s Better Together strategy cover the entire scope of construction, from the pre-qualification stage through to completion of work onsite. Expo 2020 says it has implemented world-class procurement, monitoring and audit systems to oversee contractors onsite, and has also brought in several internationally renowned experts to oversee and audit the implementation of standards, in addition to the British Safety Council, including global risk consultancy Control Risks; financial audit firm PwC; and UK government body the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, the health of everyone working at Expo 2020 has been the organisation’s top priority, according to Expo 2020. With tens of thousands of workers to protect while keeping the UAE’s largest construction project on track, Expo 2020 says it implemented a far-reaching programme of precautionary measures across the entire site, in line with guidance from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and Dubai Health Authority, and the latest information and advice from the World Health Organization.


The Opportunity District

The Opportunity District

Associated works

To facilitate access to the site and the aim of moving millions of visitors to and from the site in a safe and smooth manner during the mega event, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has built an advanced transport infrastructure, adding Route 2020 – capable of transporting 46,000 people every hour to and from the Expo site, – to the Dubai Metro Red Line, and developing a vast road network.

Route 2020, inaugurated late last year, spans a length of 15 km and was completed at a cost of more than Dh11 billion ($3 billion).

According to RTA, construction work has been completed on the majority of the roads and transport projects within the integrated plan in order for Dubai to host the mega event.

Earlier, RTA had completed all phases of roads project leading to the Expo site. It included the interchange of Expo Road; the interchange of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road with the Expo Road; the entrances to the Expo 2020 site from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road; the interchange of Expo Road with Sheikh Zayed bin Hamdan Al Nahyan Road; the interchange of Sheikh Zayed bin Hamdan Al Nahyan Road in the Dubai Investment Park with Al Yalayis Street; the interchange of Emirates Road with Expo Road; as well as the Airport Road development project to accommodate the anticipated increase in passengers that will use Dubai International Airport.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) will be providing the Expo 2020 site with clean energy from the new Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest solar energy park in the world. It is also building three substations and a number of charging stations for electric vehicles.

Dubai Municipality has also helped to develop Expo’s infrastructure and enhance the visitor experience by developing nurseries and providing trees. The civic body has implemented irrigation and landscaping projects along the roads leading to and surrounding the Expo over a total area of 2.45 sq km.

Dubai Municipality is also working on implementing a number of strategic projects to meet the future needs of the emirate in preparation for hosting the event, the most important of which is the Deep Tunnel Project, a first of its kind in the region, which covers large areas of the emirate, including the Al Maktoum Airport area and the Expo 2020 area.

Leading Dubai developer Emaar Properties is also playing a key role towards delivering Expo 2020, lending its expertise in construction and development towards delivering the thematic pavilions and Districts on time and on budget, and via its subsidiary, Emaar Hospitality, which is Expo’s Official Hotel and Hospitality Partner.



Expo 2020 will help to achieve the UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda by increasing tourism and developing innovative businesses. The event has put a special emphasis on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as key to future growth and job creation in the UAE, and has committed 20 per cent of direct and indirect spending to SMEs.

More than 46,000 organisations from over 180 countries are registered to do business with Expo 2020. SMEs account for approximately 54 per cent of all businesses registered with Expo, and 55 per cent of all Expo 2020 contracts were awarded to the sector. 

Thousands of official licensed products, made by UAE SMEs and companies around the world, will go on sale through the Expo 2020 Dubai Merchandising and Licensing programme, many of which are already available.

Featuring a spectacular calendar of daily events and programming, a rich variety of global cuisine, and a once-in-a-lifetime showcase of arts, architecture, entertain-ment, culture and technology, Expo 2020 will pay tribute to the resilience of humanity, its ability to innovate, and its pursuit of optimism in the face of adversity.

One of the first global, large-scale events to be held during the Covid-19 pandemic, it will celebrate humanity’s resilience and achievements, and its ability to innovate for a better future.



Expo 2020 Dubai is committed to building a legacy that is sustainable and enduring, and will set a benchmark for future World Expos. The site is a vision of the city of the future, designed for more sustainable and human-centric living.

Ensuring a meaningful and lasting legacy post-Expo 2020 Dubai has been part of the planning since the beginning. The aim is to create a long-term legacy of collaboration and innovation for human progress through four pillars: Economic, Physical, Reputational and Social.

More than 80 per cent of Expo 2020’s infrastructure will live on in the future city of District 2020, which will repurpose most of the site’s built environment into a human-centric smart city, once the event closes its doors in March 2022.

An innovation ecosystem and community with a mandate to support the UAE’s advance towards an innovation-driven economy, District 2020 will bolster industry and technology growth in the region and will also house world-class educational, cultural and entertainment facilities.

More than 165,000 sq m of gross floor area (GFA) will be available for rent at District 2020, including commercial and residential spaces ready to be occupied in 2022.

Two Official Premier Partners, DP World and Siemens, have already committed to establishing a permanent presence in the district. Siemens will establish its global headquarters for airports, cargo and ports logistics at the site, and DP World is planning a logistics training centre in District 2020. Terminus Technologies has signed a long-term lease, where it will set up a research and development centre and its first headquarters outside of China.

The Sustainability Pavilion will become a science centre post-Expo. Many other major structures, including Al Wasl Plaza, the Mobility Pavilion and Dubai Exhibition Centre, will remain as permanent fixtures in District 2020.


Global Best Practice Programme

Expo 2020 Dubai’s Global Best Practice Programme spotlights projects that are providing real solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, in line with the global SDGs, with a view to expanding them elsewhere.

A total of 45 projects from around the world will be invited to showcase their work in a dedicated exhibition during Expo 2020 Dubai.

In September 2020, the programme launched a call for best practices that are already helping people prepare, respond and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Submissions closed on 31 December 2020 and selected projects for this round will be announced later in the year.

The programme honours a 2010 BIE mandate for all World Expo hosts to create a platform that spotlights tangible solutions from local communities that can be replicated, adapted and scaled for greater global impact.