Malaysia’s expo butterfly effect

16 December 2019
Southeast Asian nation intends to inspire environmentally friendly construction and behaviour at Dubai’s Expo 2020

Malaysia plans to use its presence at Expo 2020 Dubai to highlight how even the smallest positive change in behaviour can create a ripple effect that eventually leads to a more considered approach to managing our natural environment.

Its campaign ahead of the event thus draws upon the metaphor of the ‘butterfly effect’, a term from Chaos Theory based on the work of US mathematician Edward Lorenz, who described how a disturbance as small as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could have wide-reaching consequences far across the world.

“The symbolic meaning portrays one small act of kindness towards earth and towards one another,” said Mohd Nor Azman Hassan, deputy commissioner general for Malaysia’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai, in October 2019.

“This can have a huge impact on the entire ecosystem … If each of us flaps our wings in the right direction, we can produce a better tomorrow for our children and their offspring.”

Green agenda

At Expo 2020, Malaysia’s pavilion is devoted to the theme of ‘Energising Sustainability’, and reflects both the country’s own conservation efforts at home and its endeavour to advance a green agenda beyond its borders.

The design of the pavilion takes on the form of a rainforest canopy – appropriate for a country where tropical rainforest still covers 18.3 million hectares, or 55.3 per cent, of its total land area.

Indeed, some of the world’s oldest rainforests can be found in Malaysia, including the prehistoric Taman Negara in Pahang, which is estimated to be more than 130 million years old.

“We wanted the expo visitors to experience nature. Among the thick foliage and canopy of trees, we are depicting our Malaysian tradition of nipa huts, which are built on stilts and made with lightweight and natural materials,” said Hassan. “The sustainable architecture looks like it is floating on air. A meandering river will lead into the pavilion.”

The design, spanning 1,234 square metres, was developed by Hijjas, a Kuala Lumpur-based architectural firm that also worked on the design for Malaysia’s Expo Milan 2015 pavilion.

Beyond its looks, the pavilion is set to boast staunch environment credentials using carbon offset building materials to deliver a zero-carbon construction that requires less energy and which will ultimately be dismantled and recycled once the expo is over.

Practical steps

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the pavilion on 21 October 2019, it was revealed that the energy consumed during the construction and operation of the pavilion will be offset by tree-planting initiatives in Malaysia.

“This is an initiative by the Malaysian government to highlight our efforts and commitment in balancing economic progress with environmental concern,” says Shamsul Bahar Mohd Nor, CEO of Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech), the government agency that is leading the pavilion works.

“In line with the Paris Agreement of 2016 and the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Malaysia aims to play its role in the fight against climate change,” he notes.

The pavilion will use energy-efficiency features including heli-fans to enhance airflow, as well as solar panels and water harvesting technology. The aim is that the pavillion’s energy consumption will be reduced by 25 per cent during the six months of its operation.

Many of the materials used in the building of the structure will also be reused once the pavilion is dismantled. Nearly 30 per cent of the Malaysian pavilion will be repurposed, including the steel used in the structure.

Construction of the pavilion was due to begin in December 2019, with shell and core expected to be completed by July 2020. Fit-out works for the structure will continue until the expo opens in October.

The estimated $15m building contract for the pavilion was awarded to a partnership of Malaysia’s Qube and Dubai’s RAQ Contracting. Qube was also responsible for executing the country’s pavilion at the Expo 2017 Astana in Kazakhstan, where the theme was future energy.

Business benefits

Malaysia aims to attract $2.5bn-worth of trade and investments through its participation in the expo. The country also hopes to secure nearly 1,000 business leads and 20 memorandums of understanding or partnership agreements during the six months.

The Malaysian companies that will be represented at the pavilion come from a variety of industry sectors, including sustainable agriculture, culture, tourism, e-commerce and community development.

“This expo is definitely a great opportunity for Malaysia to renew its ties and build new relationships with all the nations participating,” says Nor.

“The UAE itself is Malaysia’s largest trading partner in the GCC region, and the relationship between the two nations will be further strengthened through understandings and agreements [during the expo].”

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