The Sarkeet Architect discovers Terra

The Sarkeet Architect discovers Terra

As an architect, I was eagerly anticipating my visit to Terra - Expo 2020 Dubai's Sustainability Pavilion, a project that has acquired LEED platinum certification, the highest available accreditation for sustainable architecture.

The videos and photos posted by Expo 2020 Dubai have always raised my curiosity, so I was very excited for the Pavilion Premiere so I could visit the site. In terms of technology, creativity and thought process, World Expos are always ahead of the times.

I expected a gigantic structure, but was surprised by what I came across: although the Sustainability Pavilion is massive, it brilliantly blends with the human scale, and fits it organically with the surrounding garden. Designed by Grimshaw architects, the pavilion features a leaf-shaped overhanging roof with solar panels, symbolising an umbrella that protects the earth, and showing that sustainability is the future.

This pavilion woke up my inner child, making me want to run around to explore it all. When I entered the well-landscaped garden, I wondered how it is possible for such an alenistic structure to simultaneously have such a down to earth design.

Terra successfully demonstrates the ingenuity and possibilities of architecture as society looks to intelligent strategies for sustainable future living. The design team were inspired by complex natural processes such as photosynthesis, and the dynamic form of the pavilion is in service to its function, capturing energy from sunlight and fresh water from humid air. This is carried out by the ‘energy trees’ and their photovoltaic ‘leaves’ that surround the pavilion.

The garden plays a crucial role in the visitor experience. It is both experimental and functional, featuring innovative irrigation techniques including greywater recycling and thus reducing water use by 75 per cent. Visually, modern materials like weathering steel harmoniously blend with desert stones and plants, evoking the UAE’s natural biodiversity and how nature adapts to its harsh climate.

Inside the pavilion offers a totally different experience: it is not as calm as the exterior, but rather encourages visitors to reflect upon who the culprit is. Upon entering both ‘Into the Forest’ and ‘Under the Ocean’, visitors feel great excitement, which evolves into confronting reality as the exhibits progress. The pavilion explores humankind’s relationship with nature, our obsession with excessive consumerism, and how we can change our everyday choices to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact. It successfully and creatively makes an impact about the damage caused by humanity and its lasting effects, while art and technology highlight the importance of sustainability.

Indeed, it is sustainability that is the key for survival, it is the future. Thanks to Expo 2020 Dubai for this extraordinary leap forward for humankind.


The Expo 2020 Dubai Pavilion Premiere offers visitors a unique opportunity to preview the Expo's Sustainability Pavilion between 22 January and 10 April.

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