The Netherlands pavilion shows the relevance of architecture. It illustrates vital themes such as circularity and potential solutions for water, energy and food issues. Solutions that are beautiful and offer hope.”

Netherlands Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai opens to the public

As per 1 October, the Netherlands Pavilion at the World Expo in Dubai is open to the public. The Dutch submission was designed by V8 Architects as a circular biotope. It offers visitors a complete sensory experience around the theme of ‘uniting water, energy and food’. Innovative Dutch technologies are used to harvest water from the air, to collect energy from the sun and to grow food. All comes together in the ‘Food Cone’, that is covered with over 9,000 edible plants and oyster mushrooms. The pavilion is an outstanding example of sustainability and circularity through its integration of high-tech developments at the cutting edge of technology and art. The pavilion was commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and created in collaboration with the consortium partners Expomobilia, Witteveen+Bos and Kossmanndejong.

A biotope in the desert
The pavilion was designed by V8 Architects as a temporary, circular climate system – a biotope in Dubai’s desert climate. In the pavilion, solar energy is used to collect hundreds of litres of water per day from the air. The green Food Cone is the pavilion’s centrepiece and has over 9,000 edible plants and herbs such as asparagus, basil and mint growing all over it. There are dozens of kilos of oyster mushrooms cultivated on the inside of the cone. The water that is collected from the air is used to irrigate the plants. Natural phenomena such as condensation, solar energy, photosynthesis, fungus production, humidity and temperature transmission are used to create a climate system. Visitors experience the power of these natural phenomena in an almost silent space and see how food can be grown in a building in a circular manner. Architecture is used as a physical representation of the Netherlands’ key message, namely the connection between sustainable solutions in the areas of water, energy and food. Even in the most arid conditions it is possible to create a liveable environment.

A trip through a harvesting machine
The pavilion works like a harvesting machine. Visitors go down a slope to the bottom of a 4-metre construction pit excavated in the desert. It is naturally cooler and darker here. The darker, cave-like area is the heart of the food cone and rain falls in the middle. Visual projects and sounds in this space enable visitors to see how the biotope works.

This is what makes the Netherlands’ pavilion markedly different from other country pavilions. The pavilion appeals to all of the senses and in this way forms its own exhibition and visitor experience. Dutch artists complete the sensory experience of the story.

At the cutting edge of technology and art
V8 Architects has designed the pavilion as a platform for innovations, both literally and figuratively. Here architecture is not used as a visual spectacle but is subservient to the creation of a circular living environment. Innovations were brought to the pavilion that are at the cutting edge of art and science. These include a special technology for extracting water from the air and transparent, organic solar panels that were integrated into the pavilion design both technologically as well as aesthetically. The pavilion shows that a building can provide its own water, energy and food in an almost self-explanatory manner.

Sustainable and circular building
Reusable or recyclable building materials were used wherever possible for the construction of the pavilion. Instead of using permanent materials such as concrete, or transporting materials to Dubai for the construction work, building materials available locally were hired for use in the pavilion. The walls of the pavilion are made from steel sheet piling and the roof is made from steel tubes. These materials which are normally used locally for harbour basins and foundation pits also create a link with the civil engineering expertise of the Netherlands. The desert sand extracted from the excavation of the plot is used for filling the double sheet piling. It also serves as a temporary insulation material. The plot will be filled in again after the Expo. The façade of the pavilion is made from inflatable ETFE film. A temporary floor surface is created using special reusable paving mats together with the desert ground.

All materials will be returned to the local construction industry or will be given a new purpose after the Expo. This approach creates a minimal environmental footprint.

The Netherlands pavilion recently won the ‘Sustainable Construction Project of the Year Award’, as part of the renowned Big Five Construction Impact Awards. For the Gulf Sustainability Awards 2021, it was nominated as finalist under the category ‘Best Sustainability Education or Awareness Programme Companies’.

Bio-based materials are the future
Many of the current finishing materials used in the construction industry cause pollution during production and are not recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable at the end of a building’s lifespan. Bio-based materials offer an alternative.

The Netherlands pavilion uses various bio-based materials and by doing so hopes to inspire the construction industry. For instance, the canopy is made from biodegradable textile with special properties to withstand harmful UV rays whilst vitamin D can still be absorbed. Just like the canopy, a curtain, measuring 22 metres width and 14 metres high which allows events in the lounge to take place in privacy, is also made of biomass such as maize, that was converted into biopolymer textile fibres. Furthermore, the floor and wall elements of the interior were specially designed and finished with a new material that uses mycelium as a basis. Mycelium is the network of fungal threads. It is the growth medium for cultivating mushrooms and when combined with straw, for instance, has good qualities for use as acoustic panels and floor tiles.