Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion is one of the three anchor exhibits in the Expo 2020 Dubai, designed by Grimshaw Architects. The 6,000square metres pavilion is designed to be used well after the expo as a science museum for which the architects drew inspiration from complex natural processes like photosynthesis; the pavilion’s form creates energy from sunlight and captures water from humid air.
To create a self-sustaining building, the architects have used series of technologies, building systems and passive design strategies to act in unison. Responding to the desert context of Dubai, most of the pavilion is inserted below ground to use the insulating properties of the earth. The temperatures in Dubai can easily hit 50 degrees during summer months and the earth provides a natural barrier to this heat, cased within an earth roof system. This helps in reducing cooling needs of the building, which provides significant savings on air-conditioned loads and energy consumption. To decrease the cooling load further, the ground surfaces are clad with a gabion rainscreen wall — locally found stone — having thermal mass to absorb the heat and reflect the sun.
“When creating a building with a goal of generating its own energy and water in a harsh climate, the solution cannot be driven by a single aspect of the design. To achieve net-zero, the design required a series of technologies, building systems and design solutions to act in unison,” said Grimshaw Architects.
“This self-contained, micro-ecosystem resulted from a combination of strategies: optimising the natural conditions inherent in its location; working with and within them to maximise efficiency; and supplementing them with pioneering sustainable technologies to create innovative solutions”
The standout feature in the pavilion is its giant central canopy located in the large exterior courtyards. The canopy accommodates 6000-square metres of ultra-efficient monocrystalline photovoltaic cells embedded in glass panels, providing dual functionality. On one hand it’s a giant solar panel while its form helps provide passively cooled space below to the visitors. Envisaged as a large tree, the canopy works with the courtyard to direct the cool air inside, just like how courtyards work in vernacular architecture of the region, assisting low-lying hot air through the chimney effect.
The canopy’s form also helps to act as a giant water and dew collector, replenishing the building’s water system. This is complemented by the landscape used on the ground floor which has been carefully chosen to create a water-efficient landscape, creating closed-loop systems designed to filter, supply, and recycle water. By combining latest solar energy collection technology with local landscape and implementing these with technologies of water recycling and reuse, provides visitors a newfound appreciation of the unique region and its biodiversity.
Grimshaw Architects explains, “The gardens are both experiential and functional, setting the stage for the exhibition’s contents within and creating shaded gathering areas that will manage and distribute crowds while providing retail, food and beverage opportunities.”
The pavilion also includes nineteen E-trees which are giant solar energy trees that help the pavilion generate 28% of its energy needs. Ranging in 15 to 18 metres in diameter, the E-Trees are inspired by the dragon’s blood, a tree only found on Socotra, an island 200 miles of the coast of Yemen. Built using steel and complex composite, the solar trees follow the sun mimicking a sunflower, rotating 180 degrees throughout the day.
The architecture of the Terra Pavilion is a vehicle which showcases and educates the visitors on the research of solar harnessing while also showcasing the possibilities of architecture for future sustainable living in desert environments. The pavilion promotes the importance of embedding a building in its context and forging meaningful dialogue between the building to site and to its physical and cultural context.
Client: Emaar Properties & Expo 2020 Dubai
Location: Expo Road
Location: Dubai South, Jebel Ali, P.O. Box 2020, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Completion date: January 2021
Gross square footage: 17,000 sqm
Project cost: confidential
Engineering: Buro Happold
Landscape architecture: Desert Ink
Exhibition design: Thinc Design
Exhibition content: Eden Project
Photography credit: Phil Handforth - Handforth Photography
Grimshaw was founded by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw in 1980. The practice became a Partnership in 2007 and operates worldwide with offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Dubai, Melbourne, and Sydney, employing over 650 staff.
Grimshaw’s international portfolio covers all major sectors and has been honoured with over 200 international design awards for its commitment to design excellence. The company’s work is characterised by strong conceptual legibility, innovation and a rigorous approach to detailing, all underpinned by the principles of humane, enduring and sustainable design.