The impact of Covid-19 has led many participating nations at Expo 2020 Dubai to revisit their delivery and programming plans for the event. In some cases, it has been as minimal as adding social distancing signs to a pavilion. For others, it has involved an overhaul of what is a ‘priority’ at the expo.
However, the postponement of the event has also given participants an extra year to plan bigger and better. And in many ways, Expo 2020 is shaping up to be an opportunity for global thought leaders to convene and propose solutions to challenges facing humanity as a whole.
“The World Expo in Dubai was always going to be the greatest show on earth,” says Laura Faulkner, UK commissioner general and project director for the UK pavilion.
“It frankly is one of the biggest events that the world has ever seen because of the scale of ambition of the expo organisers and of the government. Her excellency Reem al-Hashimy set out a vision for connecting minds, creating the future. And as one of the commissioners working on the expo, along with 190 other commissioners, there has been a lot of conversation about what the delay and the impact of the pandemic has meant for this event.”
The pandemic has introduced changes in this world in ways that we do not yet fully comprehend
Laura Faulkner, UK commissioner general
Faulkner notes that the "pandemic has had a structural effect on people's lives in ways that we do not understand".
"And of course the planet is changing in ways that we do not yet fully understand,” she says. “The future holds possibilities and challenges for the world that we don't know yet. So the pandemic is just the most recent of those challenges that we are facing.
“If the World Expo is there to give you solutions for the future, it is absolutely embodying the collaboration that nations have to do to solve the challenges of now,” she states. “We found that the [overarching] theme connecting minds, creating the future, and the UK’s theme, which is innovating for a shared future, are already in the right place for this event.”
The UK pavilion
Inspired by one of late English physicist Stephen Hawking’s final projects, 'Breakthrough Message', the UK pavilion’s theme and design is centred around the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and space on humanity.
Faulkner refers to this as a ‘golden thread’ that runs through the different stories, innovations and sectors that will be on display in the UK pavilion, through an interactive digital experience.
Faulkner explains that many of the topics that the UK pavilion was planning to cover at Expo 2020 are just as relevant even in the post-pandemic world.
“The UK is not participating in expos to come and broadcast what it is good at or what it has done,” she says. “It is coming to share ideas and create new partnerships with other nations and with all of the visitors that come to expo. So in the pandemic sense, in terms of our content and our events, we were future-proofed.”
There are practical changes that have to be made, says Faulkner. The UK pavilion had already planned to focus on areas such as climate change, innovation in health and life sciences, and smart cities in its programming. The only difference now is that the learnings have been accelerated, in order to help tackle the challenges introduced by Covid-19.
"The UK has worked hand in hand with other nations to find solutions and will utilise Expo 2020 as a platform to share these with the world.
“Our story remains the same, and it is bigger than one thing – it is about innovating for the planet, for the future," says Faulkner.
The pavilion, which is being constructed in two parts, is 50-60 per cent complete with exterior walls in place. This includes the base building containing the conferencing and VIP areas, food and beverage spaces and gardens.
The defining part of the pavilion, the cone, will be added after careful planning to maintain the integrity of the structure until the expo.
In September 2020, the UK pavilion launched a call for music lovers to submit ‘sounds’ to contribute to a musical landscape for the pavilion's central choral space. The project will be led by UK-based audio design studio Polyphonia, which will stitch the sounds together to form a seven-minute long soundscape that will be heard by millions of visitors.
The soundscape was conceived as part of the design for the visitor experience by Avantgarde, along with lead pavilion designer and artist Es Devlin.
Polyphonia has designed a 360-degree spatial sound system utilising 16 concealed speakers and 3rd Order Ambisonic software to create a fully immersive and unique sound that will be crafted and molded to the space.
The UK pavilion has previously utilised spatial audio design to create immersive experiences at its expo pavilions. During World Expo 2015 in Milan, the UK pavilion featured an immersive live 3D audio experience, shaped by the real-time movements of bees in a hive hundreds of miles away in Nottingham, UK.
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