Foster, BIG and Grimshaw reveal designs for 2020 Dubai Expo pavilions

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Foster + Partners, BIG and Grimshaw Architects have won a competition to design a trio of pavilions for the 2020 Expo, which will be held in Dubai.

The three firms saw off competition from 10 other entrants to the global competition for the pavilions, which will form the centrepiece for the 438-hectare Expo site in Jebel Ali – a port town located between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The title for the Expo is Connecting Minds, Creating the Future and architects were asked to submit proposals under the festival's three core themes: Mobility, Sustainability and Opportunity.

Grimshaw Architect's Sustainability Pavilion for the Dubai Expo 2020
A series of satellite dish-shaped structures by Grimshaw Architects will form the Sustainability Pavilion

Danish firm BIG has been awarded the Opportunity Pavilion, London firm Foster + Partners the Mobility Pavilion and fellow London studio Grimshaw Architects the Sustainability Pavilion.



"The competition attracted a truly stellar line up of architectural firms," said committee chairman His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum who described the Expo as a "festival of human ingenuity".

"After careful study and consideration, three designs stood out, amidst tough competition, as great future structures that will mark our Expo as exceptional," he added.

Foster+Partner's Mobility Pavilion from the Dubai Expo 2020
Foster + Partners has been awarded the Mobility Pavilion

Foster + Partners' winning proposal is a tiered trefoil-shaped building surrounded by an illuminated plaza.

The firm led by Norman Foster is also currently working on a crystalline skyscraper in Dubai's financial district and a new creative neighbourhood for the city.

Foster+Partners' Mobility Pavilion from the Dubai Expo 2020
Foster + Partners' proposal is a tiered trefoil-shaped building surrounded by an illuminated plaza

Bjarke Ingel's firm BIG, which has also been named the designer of this year's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, has drawn up plans for a building with an arched underside containing a planted courtyard.

A series of satellite dish-shaped structures by Grimshaw Architects will form the Sustainability Pavilion, a centre for the promotion of innovative technologies that is intended to run on after the Expo concludes its six-month stint in April 2021.



The London firm headed up by Nicholas Grimshaw is behind several other ecological structures including the Eden Project in England and a series of botanic greenhouses in South Korea.

The competition brief stipulated that pavilions must have the flexibility and longevity to live on as functional landmarks after the Expo completes in 2021.

BIG's Opportunity Pavilion from the Dubai Expo 2020
The Opportunity Pavilion will be designed by Bjarke Ingel's firm BIG

"The winning theme pavilion designs further build on the UAE and Dubai's proven record in iconic architectural design, particularly when considering their long-term functionality, sustainability and contribution to Expo 2020's legacy and Dubai's long-term development," said Expo committee member His Excellency Mohamed Alabbar.

The United Arab Emirates city is currently undergoing a wave of development following its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.



Leading architects Zaha HadidJean Nouvel, and UNStudio have all designed buildings for Dubai's skyline, which is dominated by the world's tallest building – the Burj Khalifa by Skidmore Owings & Merrill.

BIG's Opportunity Pavilion from the Dubai Expo 2020
BIG's Opportunity Pavilion propsal has an arched underside containing a planted courtyard

Plans for the world's tallest twin towers, an underwater hotel and a climate-controlled mega resort have been announced. And Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has unveiled a proposal for a needle-like observation tower for a harbour development, which aims to rival the 828-metre-high Burj Khalifa.

The World Expo is a public festival, which is hosted by a different nation every five years with unique pavilions and exhibitions. The last 2015 Expo was held in Milan, where the British Pavilion by artist Wolfgang Buttress and architects BDP was named as best in show.

Other projects at the Milan event included a Slow Food Pavilion by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, which was described as an alternative to "pompous and unsustainable" expo pavilions.

See all our coverage of the 2015 Milan Expo, which was themed Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.

The Dubai Expo will run between October 2020 and April 2021.

  • MJ

    Both Foster’s and BIG’s designs are very similar to iArc’s Tribowl in Korea… Very similar.

    • Imhotep

      Name one building that is free of any reference to a past precedent.

      • MJ

        Lol, someone seems offended.

        • Gdavies

          It’s not about being offended, it’s just fact. It’s so lazy to liken buildings to other buildings without offering any worthwhile criticism.

  • JT

    Reading the comments on Dezeen is a lot more fun if you read them in a Thurston Howell III voice.

  • HeywoodFloyd

    Sorry, but isn’t the phrase ‘sustainability pavilion’ an oxymoron?

    • ARCH184

      In reality, relating sustainability with such an event is contradictory. All the guys who are paying for it really care about is showing off their wealth. I doubt there will be any architectural / scientific breakthroughs at the event and I doubt there will be our generation’s version of the crystal palace / geodesic dome.

  • Roberto Sideris

    BIG was given an opportunity with this one and they missed it (pun sadly intended). Seems a bit plain Jane next to the other two.

  • HelenHm

    Why aren’t people talking about Dubai and the U.A.Es appalling LGBT rights, in the same way that people did over the Sochi Olympics?

    The design community, which promotes tolerance and evolution, should be making some noise about the country’s rules of imprisonment/death penalty for homosexuality.

    • Roberto Sideris

      In reality they aren’t interested, just like the Olympic committee was happy to award China the 2008 games even though the Olympic code says they must be held in a democratic country with free speech. People only care about money.

  • Kayleigh

    Wow! Grimshaw’s is a winner.

  • Chejo

    I really like BIG’s pavilion but it looks a lot like this library proposal in Helsinki…

  • Kamil Kibar

    Shiny metal surfaces under Arabic sun! Doesn’t it disturb anyone? Foster architecture is nothing but engineering disguised as architecture.

  • whatever…

    HAHAHA this is all horrible!

    Awful projects…total nonsense.

    • GDavies

      Your comment doesn’t exactly add to the debate! What is total nonsense and why? Come on, let’s have a bit more than mud slinging.

  • DOS Architects

    Foster and Partner’s project has very strong similarities with DOSArchitect’s entry for the Taipei Performance Centre, which dates from 2008.
    http://dosarchitects.com/index.php?nav=project_details&idproject=89

    • Douglas A. Wallo

      Foster’s buldings seem to have a history of negative mimetic presentations.