The World Expo came to Dubai in 2021/22 showcasing ideas of ‘Connecting minds and Creating the Future’.
This post has been written well after the giant gates of Expo 2022 have closed, but there will be other Expos coming, and they are well worth a sport on travel or event bucket lists.
World Expo History
Over the years there have been a lot of major ‘firsts’ coming out of World Expos. The Eiffel Tower was built for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, for example. The world’s first ferris wheel, named after its inventor George Ferris was debuted in Chicago in 1893. The world’s first telephone was demonstrated by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centenntial Expo(sition) of Arts, Manufactures and Products in 1876. One of the first mechanical computers was on display at the 1862 London International Exhibition, which also saw the Crystal Palace. Oh, and the first live TV Broadcast was made at the New York World’s fair in 1939, and Ultra HD TV debuted at Expo 2005 in Aichi in Japan.
Dubai Expo 2020/21
Expos are ‘global events dedicated to finding solutions to fundamental challenges facing humanity by offering a journey inside a chosen theme through engaging and immersive activities‘, per the website of the global organiser, the Bureau Internationale des Expositions. Like the summer Olympics which come around every four years, they are on a five year cycle. All nations are invited to showcase their interpretation of the central theme.
The beginning was inauspicious. Covid-19 caused a major setback and the ‘2020 Expo’ was delayed by 12 months. It opened to the public in October 2021, and closed at the end of March 2023.
The Dubai government invested heavily into the Expo and there was a lot riding on its success. It paid off. By the time it closed, 24 million visitors had been through the gates. The residents of Dubai (myself included) could not get enough of it. The Expo boasted 60+ daily shows, including the centre piece – the Wasl Dome, a giant water feature, 192 country pavilions, the Sustainability district, Mobility district and the Opportunity district and very importantly some of the best pop-up restaurants and bars in Dubai.
Exhibiting nations were asked to interpret the them ’ Connecting minds and creating the Future’, and the Expo also the three main districts showcasing sustainability, mobility and opportunity.
Sustainability District & ‘Terra’ the Sustainability Pavilion
Dubai and the UAE are publicly committing the country to sustainability and sustainable initiatives. This commitment was on display in the sustainability district. Inside the Terra Pavilion there were installations showing the immensity of the problem caused by plastics. And you could play a game where you make choices with levers and the environmental impact of your choice is calculated. You could also meet ‘Gnasher’, a giant, sharp-toothed machine representing endless consumption, and stroll beneath solar energy and water condensing ‘trees.
Mobility District & ‘Alif’ the Mobility Pavilion
The Mobility Pavilion pays tribute to Ibn Battuta and other medieval Arab explorers, in a darkened hall. A lift with capacity for 160 people takes viewers to the top of the building and guests wander down through 9m tall likenesses of explorers, with stories of the innovations that helped drive global mobility through the centuries
Uncover future minds with the Russia Pavilion – literally with a giant luminous brain that separated in parts to reveal synapses inside. Two interesting things from this exhibition were a narrative on cognition and how the brain interprets messages; and an inside perspective on how different species view the world around them. Because a horse had eyes on the side of its head, the view is unnervingly restricted, whereas a bee sees everything all at once.
Opportunity District – ‘Mission Impossible’ the Opportunity Pavilion
Showcasing the ripple effect where one person can be the key to unlocking eight billion opportunities.
The UK pavilion’s take on this was to contribute to a continuously changing collective message on the building’s façade and innovate for a better future.
The giants were there – Russia, South Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the UK and Germany to name a few. These had long queues and most had an app to help those who had planned in advance to jump the queue. There were the quirky ones – Morocco, Bahrain, Poland, New Zealand, Belgium, Oman. In Oman, the focus was on frankinsense – also called Oud and Oman’s historic connection.
And there were exhibition buildings, where smaller countries had mostly static displays – for example Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Romania.
Talk in the office was about ‘which is your favourite country’, based on your experience at Expo. Mine was Poland, which reinforces my long held ambition to visit. This was based on a free Chopin concert on entry, where visitors could rest their weary feet, and then once reinvigorated wander through a felt ‘jungle’, where banners of felt fabric simulated the experience of walking in the Bialowieza Forest, where sound is deadened by moss. Or ‘what is your favourite cuisine’, based on the restaurant. For me New Zealand, who had a superb restaurant, followed by Australia because you could get vegemite and cheese toasties.
The Dubai Expo 2020 site is being converted to an integrated mixed-use community with accommodation, exhibition halls, restaurants and market spaces.
Visiting a World Expo is such a feel good thing to do. Part school excursion, part theater and entertainment, and there is also the chance that you’ll be there when they launched the next big thing.