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Industry experts discuss sustainability at Expo 2020 Dubai

On 20th October 2021, the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates hosted a webinar titled “In celebration of Expo 2020 Dubai: A conversation on sustainable architecture” bringing together industry experts with extensive experience on prominent projects in the UAE and Hong Kong to discuss how the Expo in general, provides a blueprint for a sustainable future, with special focus on Terra, the Pavilion dedicated to sustainability. The event was sponsored by Emirates Airline and featured a lucky draw for Hong Kong audience members, where the winner gets two economy round-trip tickets to Dubai for an unforgettable Expo experience.

In her opening remarks, Mariam Alshamsi, UAE Acting Consul General to Hong Kong, noted that sustainability is one of the core components of the Expo, which has recently received site-wide International Organization for Standardization (ISO) accreditation, illustrating the UAE’s visionary leadership as a pioneer in the green economy and making good on the promise of delivering the most sustainable world fair in history.  The Expo, whose theme is “Connecting minds, creating the future”, aims to find innovative and collaborative solutions to mankind’s shared challenges, and during its opening “Climate & Biodiversity Week”, the UAE pledged net-zero emissions by 2050, as the first country from the MENA region to do so.

The webinar received attendees from industry professionals, academics, and government officials from Hong Kong, including schools of architecture, design, and civil engineering at CUHK, HKUST, HK PolyU; Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and Environment Bureau, Architectural Services Department, Planning Department, Environmental Protection Department; architecture practices in the private sector; and from the UAE side, professors and students from the University of Sharjah, American University in Sharjah, and Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion

Andrew Whalley of Grimshaw, the renowned UK-based architectural practice commissioned to design Terra, inspired the audience with a presentation on how Terra, which is Platinum LEED-certified, achieves net-zero emissions status through different strategies, including the iconic and futuristic looking energy and water “trees” to harvest solar power and water vapor - technological marvels that are both aesthetically pleasing and serve a functional purpose, showing how innovative design and technology can optimize the use of resources and help to mitigate the effects of climate change. He also illustrates how a lush landscape can be achieved using indigenous plants that minimize water use for irrigation.

Webinar Screenshot

District 2020 – A Sustainable Legacy

80% of the Expo’s infrastructure will be retained and repurposed into District 2020, branded as a “smart human-centric future city” to ensure the seamless morphing of the Expo site into a thriving sustainable business hub. Mr. Sanjive Khosla, Senior Vice President of Expo 2020’s Transition Unit, illustrated how District 2020 will become a curated innovation-driven business ecosystem that brings together global minds and embraces new technology, while also keeping a balance between social and environmental needs, featuring lots of green spaces, bike lanes, and jogging paths. The whole area is mixed-use with both commercial and residential spaces, with a special focus on walkability, well-being, and diversity.

Webinar Screenshot

City of the future

In conversation with each other, the panelists all expounded a compelling argument for putting sustainability front and center as a response to the urgency and duty to deliver architecture and design best suited for a flourishing future as the world is at a tipping point facing the existential crisis of climate change.

As an award-winning leading voice in the local architectural field, and most known for his work on the Pad Tower and Technosphere in the UAE and the OPod concrete pipe housing in Hong Kong, James Law also contributed his insights on how to transition into the future. In the particular context of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, it is crucial to explore affordable housing technologies while managing the ethical and efficient use of resources as the city continues to develop. He also argues that sustainable buildings need not be a costly endeavor, but rather a matter of will and creativity, as exemplified in his OPod project, which is constructed out of strong concrete pipes that are low-cost and mobile, ready to be stacked modularly or relocated as needed.

Event description (introduction)

Dubai and the UAE are on the global stage as the World Expo opened to visitors on 1st October 2021 after much anticipation. Featuring more than 200 participants, including 192 countries as well as multilateral organizations, businesses, and educational institutions, it will be a dazzling experience to showcase human ingenuity and innovation and bear testament to our resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the ambitious theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, the Expo is a launch pad for exchanging ideas and inspiring collaborative action to explore solutions to fundamental global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity, equal access to resources, and bridging the digital divide. Together with mobility and opportunity, sustainability is at the heart of the Expo’s vision, as respecting the environment we inhabit is essential in our quest to build a cleaner, safer and healthier future for all. The Sustainability Pavilion (Terra) itself is an ambitious and innovative centerpiece whose design and contents embrace innovative methodologies of adapting to ecology and climate. The building captures its own energy and water supply and is a shining exemplar for sustainable living strategies through cutting-edge research and bold architectural choices that focus on meaningful, positive impacts on the planet and its people. In addition, the entire expo site is committed to sustainability, with every effort made to reduce resource consumption and minimize carbon footprint, for example, working with environmentally and socially responsible suppliers to ensure 90% of key construction materials are procured with sustainability in mind. This webinar brings forward-thinking professionals into the conversation to explore how architecture forms part of the holistic solution to humanity’s shared challenges, where innovative design and technology can mitigate the effects of climate change, manage the effective use of resources, and create sustainable urban environments to support healthy communities and drive the green economy.

About the speakers:

Mr. Andrew Whalley is Chairman of Grimshaw, an international architectural practice with offices in the U.K., France, the U.S., Australia, and the UAE, which has pledged to design net-zero carbon buildings by 2025 and socially and environmentally regenerative buildings by 2030. Mr. Whalley’s portfolio includes award-winning projects such as the Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K., the redevelopment of the historic Paddington Station in London, and the Experimental and Performing Arts Building in Troy, New York. He currently oversees the Sustainability Pavilion for the Dubai World Expo 2020. (Grimshaw was also represented by Louise Browne, Principal.)

Mr. James Law, JP, is the founder of the architecture, interior, and technology design firm James Law Cybertecture, which has won multiple international awards including the Design for Asia Award, HSBC World Architecture Award, and Asian Arab Award 2019. James is also the co-founder of homeD, which aimed to eradicate homelessness by providing affordable housing technologies and solutions by using proprietary pre-fabricated concrete modular units. He is the architect of the Pad Tower and Technosphere in Dubai as well as the world-renowned OPod concrete pipe housing. Moreover, he has been selected as Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

Mr. Sanjive Khosla is Senior Vice President of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Transition Unit and has been with Expo 2020 since 2017. His current role is to oversee the transition and evolution of the Expo site into District 2020, the future smart and human-centric community and innovation ecosystem. His role includes strategy development and planning for the re-purposing and commercialization of assets inherited from the World Expo, into a global destination focused on supporting industry growth, and Dubai’s innovation-driven economy. He is also responsible for building local and global partnerships and establishing opportunities that aim to create a sustainable and long-lasting impact.

Mr. Ryan Wong is currently a Year 3 architecture student at the University of Melbourne. He has been passionate about architecture since a young age and has completed several internships at various practices in Hong Kong including Cybertecture, where he was involved in the OPod tube housing project.



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