The Shangri-La of the Middle East may be built upon shifting sands and the mirage of luxury, but come 2020, it will play host to the World Expo. For that, it is gaining another palace: a gorgeous pavilion that looks like a beautifully folded crystal ribbon. But, like so many other buildings in Dubai, it might well be built upon the suffering of the disenfranchised.
Designed by global architecture and engineering firm HOK, the three major pavilions of the 2020 World Expo will be built upon a 1,082-acre site on the southwestern edge of Dubai in Jebel Ali, near Dubai's new Al Maktoum International Airport and Jebel Ali Port. Symbolically, these three pavilions, which fold together and intertwine, are meant to represent opportunity, sustainability, and mobility, according to HOK.
They join together at a nexus, called Al Wasl: the historic name for Dubai, which means "The Connection." It is aptly named: to maximize the flow of pedestrian foot traffic, the smaller exhibitions are intimately clustered close to Al Wasl, while the larger pavilions stretch more languorously around the perimeter. But if you don't want to walk, that's okay, too: you can get around by gondola.
Each of the three main pavilion is covered with a photovoltaic fabric that not only works as a sunshade, but also will capture at least half of the electricity needed to run the day-by-day operations of the World Expo. At night, this same photovoltaic fabric will be illuminated with lights and digital projectors to glow like a jewel in the desert.
HOK estimates that between the time the Expo opens in October 2020 and the time it closes in April 2021, 25 million visitors will wander beneath its photovoltaic canopies. When the Expo is over, the three main pavilions will be combined and transformed into a permanent Museum of the Future. None of this will come without a cost, though: the United Arab Emirates is expected to award an estimated $35 billion worth of contracts for construction of the World Expo in 2014.
And there will be a human cost, as well. It should not be forgotten that graft and corruption are endemic in Dubai, and given the United Arab Emirates's shameful laws and record of human rights abuses, this glittering crystal ribbon bordering the Empty Quarter could end up being built, in whole or in part, by virtual slaves. The World Expo of 2020 symbolizes opportunity, sustainability and mobility, but sadly, not necessarily humanity.