When Dubai announced they would be conducting free tours for residents to visit the Expo 2020 site which is rapidly taking shape, I wasn’t about to pass up such an incredible opportunity. With pick up points across Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, and tours scheduled three times a week from July 20 to the end of August, it was no wonder that tickets were booked in a mere three hours.
Taking the bus from Mall of the Emirates we found ourselves driving up to the Visitor’s Centre in little under an hour for a quick overview of what to expect from this mega event which will span 6 months starting 10th October 2020.
At the Visitor’s Centre expect the traditional UAE hospitality in the form of cold drinks and dates and snacks before you head straight in. The guided tour began with a look at the remarkable development of the UAE from its humble beginnings grounded in pearl diving to the nation it is today living and breathing the words of Sheikh Mohammed:
They say the sky is the limit for ambition, but we say the sky is only the beginning.
From understanding how the Ghaf tree provides the inspiration behind the different thematic districts that make up the Expo 2020 to understanding more about the scope of the Expo beyond the pavilions, the Visitor’s Centre was a great place to have those burning questions answered, in particular- what happens when it’s all over.
Spanning roughly 1000 acres, the size of 613 football pitches, the Expo will be home to three thematic districts – Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. The site will also have different country specific pavilions where countries will have the opportunity to showcase their technology and their culture. You can expect to see anything and everything from 3D printing to K-Pop and Monet to commercialized space travel. With 192 countries set to participate it will truly be a reflection of the diversity that already exists in the UAE. All three thematic pavilions will be connected by Al Wasl Plaza, a stunning dome shaped structure inspired by the Expo 2020 logo. In addition, there will be an exhibition centre, two parks, a rotating observation tower around 16 storeys high, 200 food and beverage outlets from fast food to Michelin star fine dining and over 60 events a day for 6 months.
We soon left the Visitor Centre behind with its virtual reality tours to see the site firsthand. Our first stop was the Sustainability District with the stunning Sustainability Pavilion, also known as Terra, expected to achieve LEED Platinum rating, covered with an array of solar panels, surrounded by solar trees and slated to have net zero energy and water consumption. The Sustainability Pavilion, we learnt, will be transformed into a Science museum at the end of the Expo.
From there we passed the UAE pavilion, the site where the remarkable achievements of this young nation will be showcased, and saw the domed trellis of Al Wasl Plaza taking shape.
We then moved on to the Mobility Pavilion which is interestingly enough designed in the shape of a fidget spinner (yes you read that correctly!) and which will be home to a high speed track and the world’s largest elevator capable of transporting 250 people at a time.
We then passed the sites for the two parks (wadi inspired Jubilee Park and Al Forsan Park), the onsite nursery which will supply the thousands of native trees and shrubs used around the site and in the parks, and the site of the Dubai Exhibition Centre where the glass facade was in progress before making our way to the Opportunity Pavilion. Now this Pavilion is being constructed using organic recyclable materials only – from stone to reclaimed timber and coiled rope long enough to stretch from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.
In addition the Expo 2020 site is connected to the largest metro station in the UAE – Route 2020 which will go on and connect to the Sheikh Makhtoum Airport thereby ensuring easy access to the site via public transportation – something that will be critical considering the expected volume of visitors is 25 million over a span of 6 months. The Expo Village a massive apartment complex rated LEED Gold and connected to the new Dubai South Mall will be used to house the staff of all the people participating in the Expo. The great news is the apartments will then be available to the public for rent once the Expo is over as part of the District 2020 Masterplan.
As we got back from the tour, we were all struck by the scale of the event, something that needs to be seen to be believed and also left impressed by the immense amount of thought and planning that has gone into ensuring District 2020 will be left a fully functioning and vibrant community once the Expo is over. As the tour ended, we passed the Volunteer’s House – HQ to over 30000 volunteers of all ages and all nationalities who are committed to making this Expo an experience of a lifetime.
If you haven’t gotten a chance to take the tour, all is not lost. Despite all the tickets being booked, the Expo 2020 team has announced that they will be opening up more slots soon. All you have to do is sign up and they’ll let you know as soon as bookings are open again.