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Terra Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai, Grimshaw, Rice Perry Ellis, Photo: Phil Handforth

In the Energy Forest: Terra Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai

The numbers may look strange, but the Expo 2020 world’s fair opened in Dubai at the beginning of October 2021. In the age of coronavirus, such postponements of large events have become quite normal. With its 17,000 m2 of gross floor area, the Terra Sustainability Pavilion by Grimshaw counts among the largest new buildings on the exhibition grounds. It is not only the content that will revolve around energy efficiency and sustainability: the pavilion itself is energy-neutral and will function independently of any external water supply. The foremost shade creator, ventilation drive and energy source is an enormous parasol with a steel construction whose surface is fitted with around 6,000 m2 of photovoltaic modules. This construction rises from the central inner courtyard of the building, which is sunk into the ground and surrounded by a ring of 6,000 m2 of exhibition spaces, ancillary rooms and an auditorium. To a large extent, these are also sunk into the terrain and feature green roofs that shield them as much as possible from the hot desert climate. Any required above-ground exterior walls are equipped with a facing shell of gabions. The only exceptions are the sloping, fully-glazed façades that delimit the interior spaces from the courtyard. The mushroom-like steel construction also serves as a collection funnel for rainwater and dew, which are used both inside the building and in the outdoor areas. The latter have been planted with drought-resistant species from the region. The steel screen is angled in such a way that it channels cool southwest winds into the courtyard, yet blocks hotter air currents from the other directions. Thermal buoyancy in the hollow space of the stem will create a chimney effect that supports the natural ventilation of the yard and surrounding spaces.
On its own, the electricity yield of the large screen would not suffice to supply the building. This is why the architects have surrounded the structure with 19 further “solar trees”, each measuring 15 to 18 m in diameter, which are equipped with solar modules. The key feature here is that these “trees” rotate on their own axis throughout the day, so they always face the sun and can thus harvest the most energy. Lightness was necessary in order to make the rotation movement as energy-efficient as it could be. Therefore, the branches of the tree structures are not made of steel, but rather of plastic reinforced with carbon fibre. They protrude as far as 9 m from the central trunk of each tree. Without question, it would be a crime to demolish such an elaborate building after Expo. But the Terra Pavilion has been spared this fate − after the fair, it is to be used as a science museum.

Further Information:

Landscape architecture: Desert Ink
Exhibition design: Thinc Design
Construction engineer, Wassermanagement: Sherwood Design Engineers
Media-technics, IT, acoustics- and safety-planning: Cerami

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