How an Expo pushed forward the UAE’s answer to feeding the planet

The Expo Milano 2015 conjured up some interesting solutions of ensuring food security for the future; not least from the UAE

In the future, will it ever be possible to ensure sufficient, good, healthy sustainable food for all mankind? This question was posed recently at Expo Milano 2015: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, which ran for six months until November.

While other countries have publicised their intentions for supporting such goals based on traditions and innovation, in the UAE’s case, far less is known about the country’s core values, culture and practices that helped transform the emirates into what they are today in fewer than 100 years, and which qualities it holds that will spur further environmental and sustainable development.

At the UAE pavilion, a large, Foster + Partners-designed structure with wavy walls up to 12 metres high, the National Media Council assembled a world-class team to imagine a unique experience for visitors who came from across the world. Showcasing exactly how the UAE can be part of conversations about sustainability going forward, that very structure will be transported to the UAE and reassembled to live permanently so that residents and visitors can  enjoy the experience - part of the requirements for participating countries.

“Our challenge has been to design for two climates," said Foster, speaking to Dezeen magazine, “to create a naturally cool, comfortable space for visitors in Milan, while considering the pavilion's ultimate reconstruction in the Emirates, where there is a need to provide shade from the intense sun.”

Meanwhile Peter Higgins, Creative Director of Land Design Studio, led the visitor experience in collaboration with Foster + Partners.

“Our guests are entertained through the whole of their journey using innovative media integrated into spectacular architectural spaces,” he says. “As they move through [the pavilion], magical stories unfold encouraging visitors to think about the relationship between land, energy, water and food production.”

In the pavilion, there is 150-person circular auditorium showing a dramatic film of a family tree that a young member of the clan, Sara, explores. She learns that the values and experiences of past generations can help in the quest for a sustainable future. The mini-drama highlights the scarcity of water and celebrates the role of the date palm in sustaining life in the Emirates during difficult times. This is followed by a multimedia presentation in a theatrical space where Sara inspires the audience to take individual responsibility for the future of the planet.

There are also Emirati ambassadors at the space who interact with visitors and share stories, a date palm exhibition, and a presentation about Expo 2020 - which Dubai is set to host.

“For at least 7,000 years, this species [date palm] has sustained and fostered life in the Middle East,” says Rashid Bin Shabib, a co-founder of Cultural Engineering – an interdisciplinary practice founded in the UAE that facilitated the pavilion.

“Equally important, it provided shelter from the sun and wind, building materials for housing and raw materials for tools and utilitarian objects.

“Today, the date palm continues to play a critical role in the region as population growth and resource shortages create greater value for renewable resources.”