A white sleeved arm holds a glass ball against the sky light through a circular hole in a white ceiling of geometric design. In the centre of the glass ball, the flag of the UAE can be seen.

Expo 2020 Dubai: Connecting minds, creating the future

At the beginning of September, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai (or ‘Fazza’ as he’s rather more affectionately known) shared a photo of his father on Instagram. In it, his father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai, is pictured twice in the same spot – in 2016 and 2021. The same man, in the same place, five years apart, and the difference is breathtaking – from desert to city in under 2000 days. As ‘before and after’ shots go, it’s pretty epic.

Looking at it now, with Expo 2020 Dubai in full swing, it’s nearly impossible to believe, but this in itself is part of the magic. Over the next six months, an estimated 25 million people will be visiting this magnificent former desert to discover ‘the world in one place’. But besides being an extraordinary spectacle, Expo has a long history of introducing the world to inventions, ideas, innovation and architecture that have gone on to play important roles in each of our lives, and shaped the world we live in. For example, did you know that the Eiffel Tower was built in just two years when Paris hosted their expo? Or that Heinz ketchup made its Expo debut in 1876? And the television? Yes, that was launched at an Expo too. Even the very first touchscreen was brought to the world’s attention all the way back in 1982 at The World Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. And for the sweet toothed, you might be surprised to know that the ice cream cone and Cherry Coke were both Expo firsts.

The very first World Expo was held in London and called ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’. Despite the less than catchy name, it was a huge success, showcasing and celebrating modern industrial technology and design. It attracted six million visitors, including some very famous faces – Queen Victoria herself is said to have visited no less than 34 times. It’s been a fixture on the global calendar ever since and has been held across Europe, America, Australia and Asia. However, Expo 2020 Dubai is its first time in the Middle East, lending it even more significance for the many thousands of people who live and work in Dubai.

A white domed building against the night sky. It is formed mainly of circular panels in the lower part and other geometric shapes as it reaches the top. It has an entrance shaped like a pointed arch. It is flanked on either side by two large white buildings with many windows. There are green trees on the ground in front of each building, leading the way to the dome.
The Al Wasl Plaza is the stunning centrepiece of Expo. ‘Al Wasl’ means ‘connection’ in Arabic and is very fitting for its place at the very heart of the event.

But Dubai is far from alone in benefiting from Expo. Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion – is already turning heads for its cutting-edge sustainability solutions, including a greywater recycling system that aims to reduce water use by 75%, as well as its nearly 5000 built-in solar panels. Andrew Whalley of Grimshaw Architects, the UK-based practice that designed Terra, explains, “We wanted to demonstrate that you could do an entirely self-sufficient building, that’s not only self-sufficient for its energy, but self-sufficient for water. So, it’s net zero energy. Net zero water. And technically, that’s an extremely difficult thing to do… but it’s something that all buildings must do within the next decade.” It is these experimental technologies and so many more that will be essential to sustainable construction going forward and form the blueprint for our future smart cities.

Attracting more visitors than the Olympics or the World Cup, the event itself is often described as ‘a global gathering’, with delegations from countries around the world taking advantage of this perfect meeting place. It’s an ideal, ready-made venue to conduct business, build relationships and deepen existing ones. It operates at a magnitude that gives organisations like Canon a unique opportunity to scale up and demonstrate the power and potential of our product portfolio in a real-world setting. For example, in just one facet of our role as Official Printing and Imaging Provider to Expo, we will be managing the print and digital workflow of around 300,000 accredited security passes – making sure that the right people have access to the right places. This is something we do routinely for our customers, but rarely to this degree. At the same time, our Canon Professional Services experts will be looking after the needs of thousands of photojournalists from around the world throughout the event. Our machines and software solutions will be in operation across all back-office operations and used by all our fellow resident companies, quietly powering many of the essential services that keep Expo 2020 Dubai going.

An aerial view of a huge, panelled circular building, emitting golden light that has a cylindrical opening at the top. It is surrounded by smaller versions of itself, sat atop tall metal ‘stems’, all slightly angled in different directions. Beyond the building are other less unusual buildings, lit with white lights.
‘Terra’, The Sustainability Pavilion, draws its inspiration from natural processes, such as photosynthesis, capturing energy from sunlight through its thousands of solar panels and nineteen energy ‘e-trees’, as well as collecting stormwater and dew in its canopy.

In fact, the numbers surrounding Expo 2020 Dubai are almost as astonishing as its near-magical transformation from desert to city. As well as the three special pavilions (Alif, Terra and Mission Possible, all presenting positive visions of our future world), there are 192 country pavilions. Sitting at the centre of which is the stunning 150-metre wide, 69-metre-high domed Al Wasl Plaza, housing the world’s largest 360° projection screen and showing epic tales with lightshows every day. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, there are also:
  • Over 60 live events per day. Mini music festivals, parades, concerts – even operas.
  • 11 themed weeks, on topics such as ‘climate and biodiversity’, ‘global goals’ and ‘urban and rural development’ and each will feature TED-style talks, workshops, exhibitions and forums.
  • More than 200 venues serving cuisine from around the world.
  • Six months of educational experiences are designed to inspire young leaders and shape the thinking of global citizens.
  • A dedicated metro capable of transporting 44,000 people to the site every hour
  • 45,000 m2 of conference space for up to 30,000 delegates
  • Celebrations for 17 international days, such as World Water Day and the International Day of Education, each with their own special events.
Ultimately, Expo is about what we do next. When Innovation IS a celebration, everyone has a chance imagine how it will play a part in their lives. Here we have incredible feats of human ingenuity presented to us alongside beautiful art, music and cuisine. We are welcome to bring our families to share in it. We get a glimpse of what could be when we act globally AND locally. It’s about the power and value of transformation. And at this critical time in human history, an event that can bring nations and organisations together and inspire action at an individual level is most important and very welcome indeed.

Written by Mai Youssef