How The Stunning UAE Pavilion Takes Inspiration Form The Desert
Article by Miriam Judith González Bolívar.
Have you ever noticed the desert landscape? What do you think you can find there? Usually when we talk about it, what comes first to our minds is austerity, tons of sand, rocks, the horizon, and the infrequent lushness of an oasis? However, the desert still has his beauty.
Dunes make the desert appear to be dancing and make it a dynamic landscape. And this is how Foster+Partners take the desert as an inspiration to create the concept and design for the Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates in “Expo Milan Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life 2015”.
Transmitting the principles of ancient cities, the pavilion takes one of the principal urbanistic planning from Romans design: Decumanus.
Decumanus is a term used in urban planning which indicates East-West street orientation. It’s used as axial guidance, making the east side the main entrance. The magnificent 12m high wall is a simulation of dunes in the sandy desert.
As dunes have a special shape created differently by the effects of wind, every panel has a unique design. At the same time, the surroundings evoke flora which are distributed in three zones: Sandy Dunes, Rocky Desert and Oasis.
The sandy dunes are the path the visitors have to cross to see the pavilion. With a stretched and shaded corridor that simulates pedestrian streets and at the same time works as a queue, visitors get a clue of how the city looks and how life is experienced in the UAE.
After crossing the paths, heading north, the round auditorium takes its place in the scenery. At 15 m high, its lining is made of copper alloy panels joined to each other at a 45° angle, covering the entire façade and continuing to the inside. Something that amazes the viewer is that the reflection of the sunlight makes patterns on the ground, feigning the sand in the desert. This only can be seen from the inside.
The idea of building the pavilion with ancient techniques was a very important key for the design. Berms were created to imitate the landscape of UAE. This construction was based on rammed earth techniques. Rowland Keable, expert on rammed earth techniques, was an important consultant to the development of the berms. Building with rammed earth involves a damp mix of soils, mostly clay and sand. However, building that way would have taken much more time than planned.
The solution to the problem was mixing clays and conglomerates rammed in layers to form a solid appearance, looking very similar to natural. It has an interesting and interactive effect on the visitor. The pathways were constructed using crushed limestone to replicate the texture of the sand in the desert, and makes the sand adhere to the panel and have an integration between these. Both were constructed out of artificial agents or additives, which contributed to the sustainable design of the project.
Located in the rear side of the pavilion, this part evokes the mountain landscape of the EAU. Unfortunately, time and budget didn’t allow representation of the environment in this area. However, the plantation of shrubs and palms suggests the flora of the country successfully. Plants were carefully selected to survive as long as the pavilion was exhibited. More berms were also constructed on this rear side, to enclose the planting zone.
After passing through these areas, at the end of the tour, finally people get to the Oasis. The oasis was one of the first areas to be created. Located on the northeast of the building, the concept was based in the oasis in Al Ain. It took a special selection of trees and shrubs of different sizes to evoke a similar impression and to represent the sizes of palms there.
It had to be a perfect combination to look as natural as possible, and of course, one important congruency at the moment of choosing was the scale.
Palms (Phoenix canariensis), which are an iconic plant in deserts, create a canopy cover which shades medium sizes plants like olive (Olea europea), orange tree (Citrus × sinensis), and fruit trees, that at the very same time provide shade to yet other species which in turn allow the growth of plants on the ground.
The creation of micro-climate though the plants provided an easy growing environment for crops, which were in this case represented by flax (Linum usitatissimum).
How Sustainability Plays an Important Role in the Design of the Pavilion
The pavilion was built under LEED principles using active and passive techniques as much as possible. Since the building satisfies green building necessities, it stands a good chance to garner platinum certification for its environmental performance.
The building can be (and will be) dismantled from Milan and assembled in Masdar (a sustainable city in UAE) where it will be exhibited; all this can be possible thanks to materials used like the GRC (Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete) that makes an easy join between the panels, so they are reusable; zero-emission or electrical transportation from UAE to Milan and vice versa.
Use of recycled and recyclable materials, chosen for their quality and durability; rainwater collection from the roof garden and sunlight harvesting through photovoltaic panels; water management, only using potable water for potable purposes, saving more than 40% of water use; a green roof to produce their own food.
At the same time, decreasing the heat inside the building; indoor and outdoor environmental quality, reducing light pollution and increasing natural daylight through the proper orientation, creating a comfortable spot for visitors and people who work in the pavilion; waste management based on anaerobic digester; and an emphasis on regional priority, in supporting the local economy.
Certainly, the pavilion exposes the reality and challenges that face cities built in the deserts, living, designing, where vegetation or water is lacking and where dealing with extreme temperatures is a daily requirement. Anyway, who would ever think that desert could be so beautiful as to inspire this incomparable pavilion?
Note for architects!! Sometimes from unexpected places or things, we can design an incredible project.
So, would you take the desert landscape as a design inspiration? Let us know in the comments section below!
Full Project Credits For The UAE Pavilion
Project: UAE Pavilion
Landscape Architect: WATG
Location: Expo Milan 2015
Area: 4,386 m²
Date of construction: 2013-2015
Client: National Media Council
Local Architect: Marco Visconti
Visitor Experience Design: Land Design Studio
Engineering, procurement & construction management: Rimond
Rammed Earth Specialist: Rammed Earth Consulting, Rowland Keable
Quantity Survey: Fraser Randall
Management: A&A Company
Plant supplier + installer: Tor San Lorenzo + Iperverde
Ground contractor: Rimogreen
Learn more about WATG:
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- Becoming an Urban Planner: A Guide to Careers in Planning and Urban Design by Michael Bayer
- Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature by Douglas Farrs
Article by Miriam Judith González Bolívar
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