Expo 2020 Dubai open: first world exhibition in Gulf Region

After being postponed for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai will finally open to visitors this week. The Netherlands is one of 191 participating countries and organisations at this 35th world exhibition, with a pavilion that embodies the theme ‘Uniting Water, Energy and Food’. Several million people are expected to visit the Expo over the next six months.

The Netherlands Pavilion is a temporary structure in the Expo’s Sustainability District. ‘Our pavilion is an experience for visitors and companies alike, giving them a real sense of the solution the Netherlands can offer in the areas of water, sustainable energy and food security,’ foreign trade and development minister Tom de Bruijn says. ‘It also ties in with the ambition of countries in the Gulf Region that want to shift their focus from oil and gas towards producing more food locally and coping with the impact of climate change. Dutch companies, governments and research institutions have the knowledge and skill to contribute to these goals.’

Public-Private cooperation

Businesses, knowledge institutions and public authorities worked together closely in developing the theme of the Netherlands Pavilion. The Dutch government fulfilled the role of commissioning body, while businesses could act as sponsors or suppliers. ‘An outstanding form of cooperation that benefits both sides,’ the minister says. ‘The Netherlands has longstanding relations with countries in the region, and we’re keen to further consolidate our position here. The Expo is a great opportunity to work on that.’

Circular pavilion with a microclimate

V8 Architects designed the pavilion so that most of the materials can be reused elsewhere after the Expo ends. Inside is a huge cone more than 18 metres high. Edible plants are grown on the outside of the cone and mushrooms on the inside. Water for irrigating the plants is distilled from the desert air using SunGlacier technology developed by Ab Verheggen. Mr Verheggen designed a unit especially for the pavilion that can produce hundreds of litres of water every day. The required energy is generated by ‘stained glass’ solar panels made of organic material, designed by Marjan van Aubel Studio. Buro Belén made the biodegradable canopy, taking their inspiration from Dubai’s native flora. All this gives rise to a unique biotope with its own microclimate.

A unique visitor experience

Visitors to the pavilion will be treated to a sensorial experience, a demonstration of both the power of nature and Dutch innovations inspired by it. Kossmanndejong and BIND have developed a show for visitors that titillates the senses and the imagination. Artist Birthe Leemeijer adds one extra element: a special scent, meant to evoke the Dutch polder, which wafts through the pavilion. The photographs by Kadir van Lohuizen confront us with the effects of climate change and modern food production methods, while Joep van Lieshout’s clocks encourage visitors to think about the concept of time.


A comprehensive programme has been developed for the six months that the pavilion and the Expo will be open. Dutch businesses and other organisations can introduce themselves and can meet potential partners from the Gulf region and other parts of the world. Several theme-based weeks have been planned: on water, food and sustainability. There will also be trade missions – which will take place virtually, if necessary – and visits to Dubai and other parts of the region by members of the Dutch government. Of course everything will be done in compliance with the relevant COVID-19 measures. Currently, anyone who has been vaccinated or can show proof of a negative PCR test may enter Dubai. In Dubai, two-metre distancing applies, and everyone must wear a facemask in all areas that are open to the public.

The Netherlands Pavilion will be open for the duration of the Expo, from 1 October 2021 until 31 March 2022 inclusive, at which point it will be taken down. The materials will largely be reused for other building projects in Dubai. Eventually, all that will remain at the pavilion site is sand. In the future, Dubai has plans to build a residential neighbourhood there.

For more information about the Netherlands Pavilion, go to www.dutchdubai.com.