Are local architects missing the Dubai Expo boat?

MEA asks whether or not industry talents from the region could be more involved in Expo 2020.

People across the region and beyond are greatly anticipating Expo 2020. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, established CEO, architect or designer, the expo will likely offer you countless opportunities, from networking to sharing knowledge. And while the advantages are perhaps greatest for those living in the UAE, GCC residents who work in various sectors, like hospitality, are grasping at the economic benefits, sure to ripple across the Arabian Gulf.

But with announcements from the Expo 2020 site being released on a near weekly basis, it seems that regional architects and designers aren’t as directly involved as originally hoped. Though there are a few examples like HOK Middle East + Africa, which is handling the Expo village, more often than not, news of the expo is led with international names like Santiago Calatrava, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, BIG, Foster + Partners and Grimshaw Architects. Such leading international companies are sweeping the boards and winning the design competitions for the site’s major pavilions.

A render of the Expo 2020 site in Dubai South.

“It is what it is,” said Tommaso Calistri, architect at Killa Design. “If international companies are applying to these competitions and winning the jobs with fantastic designs, then they deserve what they win.”

At the moment, Killa Design is working on the Museum of the Future, set for completion later this year. Located in Dubai near Emirates Towers just off Sheikh Zayed Road, the museum’s motto, “See the future, create the future”, is designed to reflect a new approach to innovation. The design studio is also working on a number of confidential projects and though Calistri couldn’t name them, he insisted that they’d help enhance the experience of visiting Dubai during the expo. It’s an indirect way of working with the expo, he said, as the event has ignited many projects in anticipation of the increased footfall come 2020.

According to Calistri, regional architects and designers could be more supported though. “Maybe the expo can do some temporary exhibitions during the event or something that local companies can design. It would increase the visibility of local companies to international markets, which is necessary, because there are so many local companies that deserve to work abroad, but they lack visibility.”

Farid Esmaeil, founding partner of X-Architects, on the other hand feels as though he’s been in frequent contact with the expo. Though his firm isn’t designing any projects for the site, his team has attended a few workshops.

The expo masterplan shows the Al Wasl Plaza.

“The overall masterplan is progressive and the site is moving forward. The World Expo is a global event – it’s important to have international architects contributing to it; however equal chance should be given to local and regional architects.”

Despite there being minimal involvement from regional architects, Calistri is adamant about it having a positive effect. According to him, the heightened presence of international firms in the UAE will push local architects to improve their standards.

“It will push them to aim for better quality,” Calistri said. “If people have to reach a higher level of creation, then all the better. Of course, it’s not great to not design a pavilion – everyone wants to do that – but it’s too late to complain about that now. It’s now up to the community to meet the new challenges.”

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