Grimshaw Architects - Terra ― The Sustainability Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai, drawing inspiration from natural processes like photosynthesis
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Terra ― The Sustainability Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai, drawing inspiration from natural processes like photosynthesis

Grimshaw Architects

Culture  /  Completed
Grimshaw Architects

Terra ― The Sustainability Pavilion opened to the public in 2021 as one of the top three attractions of the Dubai Expo 2020, aiming to illuminate the ingenuity and possibility of architecture as society looks to intelligent strategies for future sustainable living. Drawing inspiration from complex natural processes like photosynthesis, the dynamic form of the Pavilion is in service to its function, capturing energy from sunlight and water from humid air. The relationship of the building to the site and its physical and cultural context is critical, as the facility’s strength lies in its capacity to demonstrate a new way of living sustainably in a challenging desert environment. The Pavilion structure works in tandem with a considered landscape of demonstration gardens, winding pathways and shaded enclaves to create an aura of magic punctuated by the sights, smells and tactile opportunities of nature. The gardens set the stage for the exhibition within, creating shaded gathering areas that manage and distribute crowds while providing retail, food and beverage opportunities. With over 6,000 sqm of exhibition space inside, the Sustainability Pavilion will enjoy a long life after Expo is over, transforming into a science museum and expanding on its mission of exploring sustainable practices and the critical stewardship of our fragile planet. 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. Its self-contained, micro-ecosystem resulted from a combination of strategies: optimising local natural conditions; working with them to maximise efficiency; and supplementing them with pioneering sustainable technologies to create innovative solutions. The design seeks shelter from the sun below the ground, using the insulating properties of the earth to shield it from harsh ambient temperatures which can soar to 50 degrees. Most of the accommodation is below-grade and cased with an earth roof system, creating a substantial barrier to help reduce cooling loads and conserve energy. The above-ground surfaces are clad with a gabion rainscreen wall ― sourced with local stone ― which provides enough thermal mass to absorb the heat while the stone’s natural colour reflects the sun. Flora and fauna from the surrounding deserts ― including some species that have been never been cultivated by humans ― are arranged on the planted roofs and throughout the gardens, creating a water-efficient landscape with closed-loop systems designed to filter, supply and recycle water. These local topographical and floral features, combined with water recycling and reuse, provide visitors with an appreciation of the unique region and its biodiversity. The culmination of the building systems can be found in the heart of the Pavilion and its large exterior courtyard. Inspired vernacular of the region, the courtyard provides a large, passively cooled space for visitors. During the design, thermodynamic studies charting the prevailing breezes were used to shape the courtyard to allow cool south-westerly breezes to enter while blocking warmer winds. Soaring over the courtyard, the Pavilion’s canopy accommodates more than 6,000 sqm of ultra-efficient monocrystalline photovoltaic cells embedded in glass panels. The combination of the cell and the glass casing allows the building to harness solar energy while providing shade and daylighting to the visitors below. The experience in the courtyard is of being beneath a large shade tree with dappled light projecting onto the surfaces below. The form of the canopy employs the stack effect to direct cool air in while exhausting hot air through the centre. The canopy also serves as a large collection area for stormwater and dew that replenishes the water system. The Pavilion is complemented by an installation of E-Trees which contribute toward its goal of producing its own energy. Nineteen E-Trees ranging from 15-18 m in diameter are dispersed throughout the site and provide 28% of the energy required to power the building. Inspired by the Dragon’s Blood tree, found only on Socotra island 200 miles off the coast of Yemen, the E-Tree is constructed from steel and complex composites and follows the sun in the same manner as a sunflower, rotating throughout the day to maximize energy yield and solar cell efficiency. Bespoke trapezoidal panels composed of highly efficient monocrystalline photovoltaic cells, embedded within three layers of glass, provide shade below without casting severe shadows or blocking views to the sky. Supporting the array is an engineered carbon fibre structure inspired by the design of the steering wheel of a yacht. The structural design maximizes strength in its shape, with radial branches encircled by a compression ring while decreasing the load of the structure itself. Carbon fibre was chosen for its lightweight which allows the form to extend unsupported for up to nine meters in all directions. The E-Trees have become an integral part of both the exhibition and the Pavilion site ― showcasing and educating visitors on the research on solar harnessing and panel technology ― while at the same time, serving as an integral part of the systems that contributes to a net-zero energy goal of the building.


 Expo 2020 LLC, Emaar Properties PJSC
 17000 mq
 Buro Happold (Engineering), Desert Ink (Landscape architecture)
 Rice Perry Ellis (Local Architect), Sherwood Design Engineers (Civil Engineering, Water Management), Cerami (AV, IT, Acoustics, Security), Tricon (Food Service), Orca (Crowd Flow), RWDI (Climate Analysis), Thinc Design (Exhibition Design), Eden Project (Content), TAW Weiss (Maintenance), Arch4Blind (Accessibility), Charcoal Blue (Theatre Design), Lord Cultural (Operations), Friday Group (Specifications)
 New Terracota
 Marc Goodwin, Phillip Handforth, Expo 2020 Dubai, Desert Inc


The Grimshaw studio is founded on analysis and exploration. We relish the challenges inherent across a wide range of work, engaging our expertise and agility to deliver lasting, meaningful design that brings value and joy to clients and users.

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.

The practice is dedicated to the deepest level of involvement in the design of its buildings in order to deliver projects which meet the highest possible standards of excellence.

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