The national pavilion for the United Arab Emirates occupies a large site close to the centre of the Milan Expo and is accessed via its main circulation axis, the decumanus. From here, visitors are drawn into the mouth of a canyon-like space, defined by two undulating 12-metre-high walls. Influenced by ancient planning principles, the pavilion’s interior evokes the narrow pedestrian streets and courtyards of the traditional desert city, and its contemporary reinterpretation in the sustainable Masdar masterplan. The high walls continue through the 140 metre site in a series of parallel waves, unifying the visitor spaces within a dynamic formal language designed to convey the ridges and texture of sand dunes.

A ramp leads gently upwards from the entrance towards the auditorium. Along this route, the irrigation aqueducts that have historically supported agriculture in the region are introduced in digital form. The path leads to a state-of-the-art auditorium, contained within a drum at the heart of the site. After the screening, visitors follow a route through further interactive displays and digital talks, including a special exhibit celebrating Dubai as host city for the 2020 Expo. The exhibition trail culminates in a green oasis.

Conveying a unique sense of place, the landscaping around the pavilion is designed to evoke the UAE’s terrain and flora, while the texture of the walls derives from a scan of dunes. The design uses the principles of LEED with a combination of passive and active techniques. Most significantly, the building is designed to be recycled. The GRC wall panels are supported by a steel frame, which can be easily demounted and reconstructed for the pavilion’s eventual relocation in the UAE.



Mobility + Connectivity

Transportation within the Exhibition Site and along the Site perimeter road will be carried out by electrical or zero-emission vehicles A system of electrical buses and a zero-emission car-sharing service will also be available on the Site perimeter road The goods transportation system will meet the same standards of environmental efficiency as it will feature a large fleet of fully electrical or zero-emission vehicles.

Materials + Waste

Priority use of local materials with recycled content. Materials will be selected for durability for the Expo and their long term re-use – the building will be demounted in Milan and reconstructed in Abu Dhabi. Any resultant waste will be recycled or salvaged. The design of the Pavilion incorporates appropriate space for the systematic and hygienic collection and segregation for 100% of operational waste generated by the Pavilion during the Expo. Recycled organic waste streams together with the food waste from the restaurant will then be reused and treated locally by a local small-scale anaerobic digester.


Rainwater harvesting from roof and hard surfaces, for growth of food for the pavilion restaurant, resulting in no use of potable water for non-potable purposes. Commitment to efficient selection of fixtures and fittings to minimise water consumption. Metering of sub-use. Use of low intensity adaptive planting in the landscaped areas with little to no irrigation requirement. Expect water savings of >40%.

Land + Ecology

'Green roof' realised by the use of Sedum, photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels and food production reducing heat island effect. Greater than 60% open space within the plot and an internal oasis courtyard, with significant elements of shading for visitors. Food production on the roof of the pavilion for use in the on-site restaurant.


Optimisation of the buildings mass and form to enhance the local microclimate, and increase internal and external comfort level. Reduction in light pollution through careful and sensitive design of external light fittings alongside good daylight and views out for office accommodation with glare control. Increased ventilation: +30% fresh air rate.


A priority is given to local suppliers of products to support the local economy. 

Planning for Change

The pavilion ia designed to be dismantled in Milan and transported to the UAE and reconstructed. 

Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 2013
  • Completion: 2015
  • Area: 4,386m²
  • Height: 12m
  • Capacity: 785 people per hour
  • Client: National Media Council
  • Collaborating Architect: Marco Visconti
  • Structural Engineer: Foster + Partmers
  • Quantity Surveyor: Fraser Randall
  • M+E Engineer: Foster + Partmers
  • Landscape Architect: WATG
  • Lighting Engineer: David Atkinson
  • Additional Consultants: Acoustic - Sandy Brown