The UK's “Story Of Innovation”
Construction Week|November 2020
Construction Week’s digital editor, Ranju Warrier speaks to Laura Faulkner OBE, UK commissioner-general & project director at Expo 2020 Dubai, about the ideation stage and current construction progress of the pavilion, and how it will showcase British expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and space
Ranju Warrier
The United Kingdom is not new to World Expos. The country has a long history of participation that dates back to 1851, when it hosted the first expo — The Great Exhibition — in Hyde Park, London.

Expo 2020 Dubai, which was postponed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will run from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. For the UK, it comes at “a very important time”.

“We are reimagining our relationships with every nation on Earth; and we are being bold and forward looking. We are trying to build long lasting partnerships,” Laura Faulkner OBE, UK commissioner-general and project director at Expo 2020 Dubai, tells Construction Week in a virtual interview.

The UK’s participation, led by the Department for International Trade, at Expo is based on the theme, “Innovating for a Shared Future”.

The pavilion itself is inspired from one of the final projects by the late British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking, called ‘Breakthrough Message’.

Hawking’s project invited people across the world to consider a message they would wish to communicate if one day other advanced civilisations were encountered in space.

Based on Hawking’s project, the UK Pavilion will allow people from across the world to contribute to a collective message and showcase British expertise in sectors including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and space.

Faulkner says: “We have a broad theme, but underneath that, we have spotlighted technologies, AI, man, and machine learning, as well as space exploration within the pavilion’s design.”

INNOVATIVE DESIGN

Avantgarde is the prime design contractor of the UK Pavilion, with the firm leading a consortium of Es Devlin Studios, Veretec, Atelier One, and Atelier Ten.

Explaining the design stage of the UK Pavilion, Faulkner says: “With every Expo that the UK has been involved in, we set a challenge to the design industry in the country. We are purposefully broad in our call to the industry, and on this occasion, the UK is at a stage in its development where it wants to tell a certain story. And that story is innovation.”

“We asked the industry to give us designs that [not only] spoke to the theme of innovation, but also put a spotlight on to the UK’s advances and its contribution to global technology and particularly artificial intelligence,” she adds.

The centrepiece of the UK Pavilion is a 20-metre-high cone-shaped structure made up of rows of slats that extend outwards from one central point to form a circular façade.

Faulkner tells Construction Week that the cone, which is of the same height as the Expo’s entrance gates designed by Asif Khan, is taller than the Angel of the North, a contemporary sculpture, designed by Antony Gormley, located in England.

The UK Pavilion sits on a plot area spanning 3,417m2, which is as much as the floor area of Westminster Abbey, equivalent of 13 tennis courts.

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