World’s Greatest Fair

Expo 2020 in Dubai

The run-up to the world’s greatest fair.

An aerial view taken after the recent crowning of Al Wasl dome shows the progress of construction at the Expo 2020 site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Expo 2020/Handout

Unless you have renounced all aspects of modern life and have escaped to a place with no internet coverage, you must have heard about the World Expo 2020 in Dubai by now.

The upcoming event has been increasingly featuring in business media, TV and internet commercials, and on billboards across the UAE over recent weeks and months.

In any case, if you want to find out more about the whole thing or wonder whether it concerns you—trust me, there is a good chance that it does!—you have come to the right place. Starting with this introduction, TBY is going to cover the EXPO 2020 in a series of feature articles over the next few months.

Since the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London’s Crystal Palace, world expos have been held every five years or so to showcase the achievements of nations.

The “achievements of nations” may sound like a broad description. But, indeed, world expos have always encompassed a diverse mix of activities, ranging from the unveiling of artworks to the public display of technological marvels.

Lasting between three to six months, world expos are held in different locations and adopt different themes from one edition to another, but since 1928 they have been sanctioned and overseen by the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).

World expos are “dedicated to finding solutions to pressing challenges of our time by offering a journey inside a universal theme,” according the BIE, and in doing so they “welcome tens of millions of visitors, allow countries to build extraordinary pavilions, and transform the host city for years to come.”

All world expos come with a central plaza which is built from scratch to host the pavilions, serving as the heart and epicenter of the fair.

The Eiffel Tower, one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, was built in the honor of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Space Needle in Seattle, the Palace of Fine Arts in Chicago, and Habitat 67 in Montreal are all landmarks leftover from previous world fairs.

Back in 2013, the BIE chose Dubai as the host of the World Expo in 2020 after a competitive bidding processes. The cities of Izmir (Turkey), Yekaterinburg (Russia), and São Paulo (Brazil) were also keen to host the fair.

You can already be sure that Dubai, with a skyline full of buildings that stretch the limits of civil engineering, is going to have the most impressive plaza that money can buy.

Located between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the main site of Dubai’s Expo 2020 sprawls across roughly 1,000 acres. Al Wasl, the central plaza, is a futuristic dome whose design incorporates Middle Eastern motifs, elements from abstract architecture, and state-of-the-art civil engineering.

As mentioned earlier, each world expo has a theme. Montreal Expo in 1967, for example, celebrated “man and his world,” while Shanghai’s Expo 2010 chose “better city, better life” as its mantra. The Expo 2020 in Dubai will be all about “connecting minds, creating the future.”

“Al Wasl” is a historical name for the city of Dubai and—quite appropriately for a fair that celebrates “connecting minds”—it also means “connection” in the Arabic language.

The Expo 2020 will also capitalize on three sub-themes: “opportunity,” “mobility,” and “sustainability.” A separate pavilion building designed by a renowned architect will be dedicated to each sub-theme.

As the grand opening on October 20, 2020 approaches and up to 2.6 million people plan their journey to Dubai, there will be much to say about the goings-on in Al Wasl Plaza and the fair’s knock-on effects on the economy of Dubai, the UAE, and the World. Stay tuned for TBY’s series of articles on the world’s greatest fair.