Es Devlin-designed UK pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai revealed

The 20m-high cone structure – made of cross laminated timbers – invites visitors to “donate words” which form a continuous poem.

Es Devlin and a multi-disciplinary team have revealed the UK pavilion which will open at Expo 2020 Dubai this October.

Expo 2020 was originally intended to commence in Dubai, UAE, in October 2020 but was postponed to this autumn. The exposition brings together almost 200 countries under the theme Innovating for a Shared Future.

Devlin conceived the 20m-high cone structure in an attempt to showcase British innovations, from AI to space technology, according to the design team.

In collaboration with brand experience studio Avantgarde, an interactive visitor experience has been created which features both a musical soundscape and an AI-generated poem.


A poetry-filled pavilion

The immersive concept was inspired by the work of Professor Stephen Hawking, and in particular his Breakthrough Message work. This specific project was about sending a message from Earth to an extra-terrestrial civilisation, which would be representative of humanity.

Collected Message invites visitors to “donate words” which will then be fed through an algorithm and form a poetic couplet, and be displayed on the pavilion’s interior and illuminated façade.

Avantgarde managing director Stuart Bradbury explains that the algorithm was created with the help of poetry experts, and trained on 15,000 poems from over 100 British poets. Visitors can contribute a word through an online app on their phones. This cannot be done remotely.

“It all comes down to creating an experience where the visitor is part of the pavilion – they contribute to creating something,” Bradbury says. “Most pavilions of the past are beautiful structures but you tend to go in, admire their architectural form and that’s it.”

People can contribute their words at any point along their visit, Bradbury explains, and they will be sent their couplet to their phone as a keepsake.

Avantgarde also designed the exhibition space, which has AR triggers throughout used to convey information about the pavilion’s themes, according to Bradbury.

Inside the pavilion is the choral space where visitors can hear the bespoke soundscape, which has been created by diverse sounds crowdsourced from around the globe. This space is intended to resemble the chamber of a wooden musical instrument.

“We are working with voices from all over the world to create the choral soundscape which will envelop visitors at the heart of the pavilion,” Devlin said of the project last year. “We want to express a full, beautiful range and breadth and diversity of voices, every age, gender, ethnicity.”


Sustainable design elements

Structural engineers Atelier One and Atelier Ten realised the pavilion’s build. As well as the soundscape, the UK pavilion also houses a restaurant, social space and gallery.

Built from cross laminated timber and steel, the structure is positioned on a concrete plinth. Visitors approach through display vitrines which create a maze-like journey.

There are a number of design elements that aim to make the temporary structure as sustainable as possible.

As it is partly underground, there is “natural insulation” while a “thermal labyrinth” uses water tanks to cool air as a way to regulate interior temperatures, according to the design team.

Lighting control systems have also been implemented, which coordinate with a site-wide infrastructure, to ensure that energy is not wasted, the teams add.

The UK pavilion opens 1 October 2021, and will be open for the duration of Expo 2020 Dubai until 31 March 2022.

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