The participation of the US at Expo 2020 will highlight “everything about America – democracy, life, happiness, and pursuit of the future”, according to US ambassador to the UAE and the commissioner-general of the US pavilion, John Rakolta Jr.
“And in order for those things to come about, the US has to continue to connect with the entire world,” he adds. “This is an opportunity for the US State Department to highlight America not as a corporation, but as a country.”
Rakolta says that the principles of individual freedom – to worship, to marry, to not marry, to go to school, to say what you want, to move your capital as you see fit – are highlighted by the US pavilion. “One simple fact about America resulting from all of this is that more inventions and discoveries happen in America than anywhere else. This is all because of the ability to think and act creatively.”
Rakolta says that the diversity of the team working on the US pavilion is what makes the effort resilient even in the light of challenges introduced initially by funding issues and later by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pavilion is being executed by the US State Department, with global experiential design and production agency Thinkwell Group and non-profit firm Global Ties US contracted for the exhibition, operations and the cultural programming. UAE-based Electra Solutions is the main contractor for the project. Construction works began in March 2020.
“This team of people is so committed and passionate about what they do,” says Rakolta. “When you have a combined team that is comfortable and trust each other, freethinking and bound by no restrictions, a little bit of intellectual tension can actually give you great results.”
Rakolta highlights how the team rearranged its schedule when time was compressed, completing tasks in multiple shifts, turning to value engineering and changing the way resources were allocated. “We are always up to the challenge,” says Rakolta.
The US first unveiled its plans for Expo 2020 in November 2018, announcing that corporations PepsiCo and Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) would be official pavilion partners. PepsiCo is the lead sponsor and official beverage partner, but VHO is no longer a pavilion sponsor.
When asked if the pavilion is bringing on board additional sponsors, the ambassador says: “We do not want to commercialise our efforts.
“We want commercial partners, but we do not want that to be the driver of the pavilion. We want it to be driven by all of the things that our country stands for.”
Rakolta says pavilion partners will likely be forward-looking organisations in areas such as space, technology, mobility and healthcare.
Thinkwell’s tender for the pavilion presents a concept of the US “reinventing the future”.
The team has regional and international experience it can bring to the development of the pavilion, as Thinkwell previously created immersive experiences and exhibits at the Ski Dubai snow park, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi. For the latter, the firm was awarded Tourism & Leisure Project of the Year at the MEED Project Awards 2019.
For the expo pavilion, Thinkwell employees from around the world were brought together. The company’s managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Amin Rashmani, says this is what equipped the team to handle the challenges presented by the pandemic.
“Even before Covid-19 started, we had teams in Australia, Washington, Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi,” says Rashmani. “We were way into virtual conference calls and remote coordination even before the pandemic forced them upon us.”
Visitors to the US pavilion will begin their journey on a moving walkway that takes them through some of the major exhibits. These will highlight the US as a “dynamic society that has shaped the modern world and supports freedom and prosperity around the globe”, says creative director at Thinkwell, Peter Ford.
Dwell time around the 167.2 square- metre pavilion is estimated to be 18-23 minutes, and it is understood that eight exhibits have been planned by Thinkwell’s team. Some details have yet to be revealed, however. “We want to keep some things up our sleeves and not give away the entire game,” says Ford.
Programming revealed so far includes live feeds from the Nasa Mars rovers Opportunity and Perseverance, and the deep-space mission Voyager 2, as well as moon rocks from the Apollo 12 mission.
On 18 November, it was announced that external construction works on the pavilion had been completed and a key exhibit, a replica of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was unveiled.
US expo pavilion completes exterior construction
The focus in the first quarter of 2021 will be on the exhibition itself, completing fit-out and exhibit installations, as well as other programming components. After a short break, specifically curated artifacts from the US will be installed and the pavilion will go through final checks, ready to open its doors to the public.
“We want to make sure we are creating a pavilion that is worth the wait. It is something that will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Ford.
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