Expo 2020 Dubai — highlights, inspirations & impressions

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07. Apr 2022 •• Blog post •• 5 min read

On March 31, 2022, Expo 2020 in Dubai closed its doors. With 192 countries and over 20 million visitors, it was the largest world exhibition to date, and perhaps also one under the most difficult conditions due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, it delivered exciting experiences, productions, pavilions and inspirations this time as well.

Of course, we were there for the pavilion for Kazakhstan that we realized and to be inspired by the bundled highlights and trends. Which impressions remain particularly in our memory? Here is our final summary of the World Expo in Dubai. A cosmopolitan, interested atmosphere that gives hope!

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The last time we were in Dubai was in early March 2022. In these days of war on European soil, there was something strange about the Expo in Dubai, whose claim was "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. The question of whether our cities will be populated by air cabs in a few decades — a future stereotype cited in many exhibitions — seemed somewhat banal, given the prevailing news background. And yet the atmosphere at the Expo gave me a good feeling. It was a place where people and cultures from all over the world came together, from families to business people. One sensed open-mindedness, interest in exchange and the future of our planet. So the Expo also gave a little bit of hope. Last but not least, it left many impressions, inspirations and insights about which experiences really work, inspire and are remembered.

1. Original experiences generate the strongest emotions

One of the striking features of Expo 2020 was the installation of experiences that simulated original human experiences. First and foremost, touching water. This has a strong cultural connotation in the context of the Middle East. Even if its frequent use in the desert of the United Arab Emirates does not seem entirely unproblematic.

In fact, a striking number of pavilions used water: sometimes as a water curtain for queue entertainment, sometimes as a projection screen or a large water playground, as in the Brazilian pavilion. In the Pakistan Pavilion, rain cords were used as a light installation, which had an amazingly real effect. In the Dutch Pavilion, the most sustainable of this Expo, water was not only consumed but actually extracted.

Our conclusion: sensory and natural experiences are and remain simply one of the most effective ways to generate strong emotions.

2. What remains in memory? Great pictures and moments

What works in marketing and PR also works at the Expo. The pavilions that will be remembered most are those that inspire with large images and emotional moments – not so much the in-depth exhibitions. Among them the Main Show in the German Pavilion, where the guests were supposed to swing together in unison. The Brazilian Pavilion, where people walked barefoot through water. Saudi Arabia's oversized media experiences or the projections on the umbrellas stretched out by visitors in the Dutch Pavilion.

Our conclusion: This clearly shows how it is possible to reach people despite the general overstimulation. With central and strong core experiences – and the conscious filtering out of everything unnecessary.

3. The purely medial has outlived its usefulness.

Media offer us great and fascinating opportunities, but one thing is clear at Expo 2020: purely media-based offerings have outlived their usefulness. Without interaction, they are a rather mediocre experience for visitors.
It becomes much more exciting when media are surprisingly combined with other sensory elements or objects. When the interaction is deliberately not digital, but has a strong haptic component.

Our conclusion: interaction is evolving. Intelligent, creative and sensory combinations are needed not only between people, but also in the context of media.

4. Oversizing - but with technology, creativity & attention to detail

Big, bigger, Dubai. The motto of this city was of course also celebrated at the Expo. The largest and most impressive installation was the large-scale projection in the central dome, the Al Wasl Dome. It was probably the largest dome projection in the world - with an almost inconceivable technical effort.

The water feature, designed by the Californian company WET Design, near the Al Wasl Plaza, also impressed not only with its creative use of water, but its dimensions were also new and unique. Equally impressive were the nearly 10-meter-tall sculpted figures of three Arab scientists in the Mobility Pavilion. In addition to the size, it was also the amazingly detailed realization - from the tiniest fold of skin on the face to the little hairs on the wrist.

Our conclusion: oversized objects have always had their effect. But today it's not just the size, but also the combination with technology, creativity, attention to detail and staging skills that fascinates!

The Mobility pavilion unveils nine-metre-tall giants to honour Arab explorers / Photographer: Frederik Nimmesgern
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5. A holistically sustainable expo pavilion? Is possible!

Sustainability was a key content theme throughout the Expo and in many pavilions. But when it comes to the overall implementation of the buildings, the Dutch pavilion stands out first and foremost!
It had an inherently clear sustainable concept: all materials that were taken out of a cycle within the country would be returned to it after the World Expo. Water and energy were extracted, collected and used during the run itself. Water harvesting even became part of the staging - and one of our highlights of the Expo.

Our conclusion: this pavilion proved that holistic sustainability is possible even in a project as large and complex as an Expo Pavilion! You just have to tackle it!

Sustainable circular garden with hydro harvester in the Netherland pavilion / Photographer: Szabolcs Magyar
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6. Technological surprises? There were not many!

Perhaps it was due to the postponement or the pandemic, but there were no groundbreaking new technologies or application scenarios. The big surprise was missing.
Even individualized experiences with the help of technical tools were a rarity. The only one to mention here was the German Pavilion, which was able to precisely locate guests via a smart tag in a name tag and use it to greet them personally, for example, or display information directly in the right language.
Of course, there were also many media tables again. Fortunately, however, this trend is losing some of its momentum.

Our conclusion: Perhaps this lack of surprise is the most important trend. The days of simply fascinating technologies for their own sake are over! It's all about great experiences and good stories - with the help of technologies.

7. An overview of top experiences and pavilions

Last, but not least, our top 10 highlights at Expo 2020 in Dubai:

Best Exterior Design: The Bahrain Pavilion
360° Virtual Tour Bahrain Pavilion

Best Sustainable Design: Pavilions of Netherlands and Singapur
360° Virtual Tour Netherland Pavillon

Best Exhibit/Display: The Mobility Pavilion
360° Virtual Tour Mobility District

Best Activity/Interactive: The Brasilian Pavilion, the main show of Germany and the water feature
360° Virtual Tour Brasilien Pavilion

Best Interpretation of Theme: The Opportunity Pavilion
360° Virtual Tour Opportunity District

Best Use of Technology: The Al Wazl Dome
360° Virtual Tour Al Wasl Plaza

Best Show: The Main-Show-Performance with Human & AI at Kasachstan Pavilion
360° Virtual Tour Kasachstan Pavilion