In the heart of Expo 2023 Doha under the theme “Green Desert, Better Environment”, amid a whirlwind of cultural exchange and innovation, stood the UAE Pavilion, a beacon of sustainability and heritage. As the curtains draw on this monumental event, the UAE Pavilion emerges victorious, adorned with the prestigious "Gold" award for the Best Self Built Pavilion at Expo Doha 2023. 

“Receiving the Golden award for the Best Self Built Pavilion underscores the strategic foresight of our leadership and their unwavering support that propel the nation's distinguished presence in regional and international forums. We are committed to always participating as a country and pavilion in exceptional ways, showcasing our achievements across different sectors,” said Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of State. This accolade not only honors the architectural marvel it embodies but also celebrates the UAE's commitment to shaping a sustainable future while honoring its rich cultural legacy.

Her Excellency also expressed, “We are honored to be receiving this prestigious award, which reflects the dedicated and relentless efforts of diverse teams within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, and the National Projects Office, under the guidance of Her Highness Sheikha Mariam bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE Pavilion showcased the UAE’s rich agricultural heritage through its unique and innovative design over the past six months, fostering connections with Qatar and the global community.”

On this occasion, His Excellency Ibrahim Salem Humaid Alalawi, the Commissioner General for the UAE Pavilion Expo 2023 Doha also said, “We are thrilled to celebrate this award with the entire UAE Pavilion team and our guests, who made our experience in Doha truly special and unforgettable over the past six months. The UAE Pavilion has showcased our nation’s sustainability journey and its story with the world in Qatar, showing how our innovators and researchers look to our natural environment for inspiration to co-create solutions for a more sustainable and resilient future for all. More than 20 diverse programmes were also curated to engage innovators, researchers, and guests, with a particular focus on empowering the next generation.”

UAE Pavilion at Expo 2023 Doha – Gold Award for the Best Self Built Pavilion

Stretching across an impressive 2,290 square meters and designed by the acclaimed Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and guest experience by the minds at Atelier Brückner, a visual interdisciplinary firm whose other notable work includes the Museum of the Future, the UAE Pavilion also titled “Nurturing Legacy” stands as a testament to human ingenuity and harmonious coexistence with nature. Inspired by the resilient Ghaf tree, the national tree of the UAE, every element of the pavilion echoes the nation's ethos of sustainability and resilience. 

“Inspired by the deep roots and intertwined branches of the drought-resistant Ghaf Tree, the pavilion is designed as a network of rammed earth walls framing a series of exhibition galleries and gardens of indigenous species. Walls, floors, and roofs are formed by soil, stone, and vegetation, creating a physical link to the ground they come from,” affirmed Giulia Frittoli, partner, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group.

Sungha Kim, Project Manager of Design Team Atelier Brückner further added that “the trunk of the Ghaf tree, visually represented on the floor, serves as a powerful symbol of present-day sustainability initiatives. As visitors progress towards The Core of Knowledge, interactive displays invite them to explore interconnected efforts in food and water security. This immersive journey culminates in "Our Legacy," where a continuously growing Ghaf tree and an interactive garden encourage visitor contributions to a sustainable future.”

Moreover, the UAE Pavilion boasts extensive landscaping, featuring a diverse array of native and adaptive plant species indigenous to the region. Within its sprawling Garden, visitors were invited to immerse themselves in the beauty and diversity of both native and non-native plants found in the UAE. With a total of 6,609 plants spanning 65 species, including edible plants, fruit trees, medicinal herbs, aromatic spices, verdant shrubs, grasses, and perennial blooms, the garden serves as a testament to the nation's rich botanical heritage.

“Nurturing Legacy” was the UAE’s third presentation at an International Horticultural Exposition, administered by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and the National Projects Office.

The UAE Pavilion's design is not merely architectural; it is a narrative woven with threads of tradition and innovation. “The design process for the UAE Pavilion at Expo 2023 was deeply rooted in the symbolism of the Ghaf tree, epitomizing strength and resilience. The spatial arrangement of the pavilion, segmented into three themes – "Past: Our Roots," "Present: Our Land," and "Future: Our Legacy" – is a testament to the rich narrative we aimed to convey,” explained Sungha Kim. Every corner whispers tales of sustainability, inviting visitors to partake in a shared journey towards a greener tomorrow. “By weaving together architecture and landscape into a seamless experience, the UAE Pavilion shares the story of humanity’s inseparable bonds with nature,” said Giulia Frittoli.

“Metaphorically, the roots symbolize Emirati ancestors, ongoing sustainability efforts, and the promise of a collaborative, sustainable future. Our design sought to forge an emotional connection with visitors, providing an intimate experience reminiscent of listening to echoes of tales and poems from the past,” explained Sungha Kim.

The journey through the UAE Pavilion is nothing short of transformative. Visitors were invited to embark on an immersive odyssey titled "Nurturing Legacy," where they traverse through six engagements, Early Dreamers, Our Founding Father and His Fellow Rulers of the Nation, Our Land, Our Core, Dreamers Who Do, and Our Legacy, each unraveling the intricate tapestry of the UAE's agricultural heritage and sustainable initiatives. From the early dreamers who tended to the land to the pioneering projects shaping a resilient future, every step echoes the UAE's unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship.

In regards to putting the content spatially, Sungha Kim said, “our objective was to seamlessly integrate heritage with a modern, captivating visitor experience. The central installation serves as a poignant representation of the deep roots embedded in Emirati culture, highlighting sustainable foundations and fostering a connection to traditions passed down through generations. Through heartfelt testimonials and immersive sensory experiences, visitors were taken on a journey that pays homage to the UAE's sustainable legacy.”

“The UAE Pavilion is envisioned as an immersive oasis of collaboration and creativity, embodying human ingenuity and cooperation for a resource-efficient future. It stands as a beacon, portraying the essence of the nation's commitment to sustainability and fostering a legacy of positive impact,” added Sungha Kim.

But the UAE Pavilion is more than just a physical structure; it is a hub of engagement and enlightenment. Over the course of six months, it hosted a myriad of programs and workshops, ranging from panel discussions on agricultural innovations to interactive storytelling sessions celebrating Emirati heritage. Through implementing programs with UAE-based entities like the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), Halophyte Kitchen, Lest We Forget, SWALIF Collective, and Early Starters, the pavilion became a melting pot of ideas and inspiration, fostering dialogue and connections across borders.

As the curtains draw on Expo 2023 Doha at the end of March 2024 that attracted over 4 million visitors, the legacy of the UAE Pavilion lives on, a reminder of what can be achieved when innovation meets tradition, and sustainability becomes a way of life. As we bid farewell to this monumental event, let us carry forward the lessons learned and the connections forged, united in our quest for a brighter, greener future for all.

“We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Qatar for such an impressive global gathering, and I also extend our gratitude to the organizers, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH), and the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) for convening a successful horticultural expo that gathers great minds and ideas as we come together to create a more sustainable future,” added Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi.

– Marsya Abdulghani

Images courtesy of UAE Pavilion

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