AD Talks to Architect Santiago Calatrava About His Landmark Pavilion in Dubai

We might know the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava for his bone-like, organic structures that make up some of the most iconic buildings across the world—including his design of the World Trade Center’s Oculus. Now, Calatrava has designed the national pavilion for the United Arab Emirates, as part of the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, which opens October 20. Over 190 national pavilions are on view after being set back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the first world fair to ever be hosted in the Middle East, this central pavilion is what the architect calls a symbol of the country’s “bold and daring spirit.” The pavilion, at the heart of the 500-acre exhibition area, steals the show with a winged-like, round structure that symbolizes a falcon taking flight. “The conceptual framework was based on inspiration from the grace and force of a falcon, the UAE’s national bird,” Calatrava said. “We hope that visitors see it as a testament to the passion and dedication of the people of the UAE,” he explains, “serving as a reminder of the values of the nation, its resilience, and boundless future.”

A look at the exterior of the pavilion.

Photo: Barbara Burg + Oliver Schuh

At its core, an oculus skylight mirrors the shape of the expo’s logo, which features 28 wings crowning the roof. These moveable wings open to reveal a grid of photovoltaic panels, which absorb sunlight and harvest energy to fuel the main power grid.

There’s a real tranquility inside of the space, which is a hallmark of many Calatrava-designed structures.

Photo: Barbara Burg + Oliver Schuh

For expo visitors, the pavilion’s basement has a jungle-like tranquil area with water pools, exotic plants, and trees with shady areas away from the scorching desert heat. On the main level, visitors can peruse the exhibition that walks viewers through the country’s 50-year history. The focus of this design is sustainability, as the pavilion is not only energy efficient, but minimizes water consumption. The pavilion also uses local materials and optimizes indoor air quality. It is certified LEED Platinum and complies with the Dubai Green Building Regulations and Specifications. Once the expo wraps up next spring, the building will be reused for other cultural events.

Recycling isn’t the only thing, though. “The concept and practice of sustainability is central to our profession,” Calatrava said. “As architects, it is part of our profession’s duty to apply the principles of sustainability to our projects that can, in turn, achieve energy and water use efficiency, support the biodiversity of various landscapes, optimize waste management, and use as many regional materials and resources as possible.”

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