Es Devlin’s poetry-inspired UK Pavilion opens at delayed global gathering

Hopkins Architects has finally been able to share the reality of its masterplan for Expo 2020 in Dubai after the global showcase opened – almost 12 months later than planned because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The practice’s three thematic districts for the event are petal-shaped and link to Expo 2020’s central plaza. Each district features a central thematic pavilion – linked to core themes of “mobility”, “opportunity” and “sustainability” – and individual national pavilions, including Es Devlin’s UK Pavilion.

Hopkins said the sections it masterplanned cover the largest built area of Expo 2020 and are home to 87 new permanent structures. They were delivered using modular systems and will be repurposed for use by start-up businesses and “innovative tech companies” after the event concludes at the end of March next year.

Hopkins Architects principal and lead designer Simon Fraser said the practice’s concept was a modern take on a traditional Arab city, featuring a series of tree-lined streets to deliver people to key events and pavilions, but also creating a landscape for relaxed wandering and discovery.

Hopkins Architects at Expo 2020 in Dubai

Source: Marc Goodwin

Hopkins Architects at Expo 2020 in Dubai

“The challenge was to design a district that could meet the individual needs of countries exhibiting during the Expo, while being flexible enough to convert to almost any building type for a long-lasting legacy,” he said.

“We wanted to create a series of streets and courtyards that people could meander through on their way to the next big event, and which evokes the character of old Dubai and a traditional Arab city, but in a modern way.”

Es Devlin’s UK pavilion, dubbed the Poem Pavilion, is in Expo 2020’s Opportunity District. Shaped like a giant wooden conical musical instrument, the structure invites visitors to “donate a word” at its mouthpiece. Those words feed into a cumulative collective poem that is generated by an advanced machine-learning algorithm and features on the building’s 20m-diamater facade. The poem is updated every minute.

The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020, designed by Es Devlin

Source: Alin Constantin Photography

The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020, designed by Es Devlin

Devlin said she conceived the building to express Britain as a cultural gathering place, a meeting and melding of ideas and languages from across the globe.

“Algorithms are among us, they are an ever-growing part of our culture, their output is based on what they are trained on and who trains them,” she said.

“The pavilion is at once an expression of the ideal of a culturally diverse Britain that I grew up with, tempered with our growing awareness of the part algorithms play in shaping the future of our culture.”

Devlin collaborated on the designs for the UK pavilion with structural engineers Atelier One, environmental design consultants Atelier Ten, executive architects Veretec and creative agency Avantgarde.