Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion

desert INK’s landscape design for ‘Terra’ – The Sustainability Pavilion at Dubai EXPO2020 marks a huge leap forward in establishing a new, sustainable form of landscape architecture in the Middle East. The project was delivered working alongside the Client team at EXPO 2020, lead architects Grimshaw, Eden International and engineers, Buro Happold.
The landscape design features countless innovations and trials of new materials with the hope that future designed landscapes will adopt and build upon these precedents. More than 100 ‘new’ plant species were brought into cultivation as part of the landscape design, many of which were grown from seed collected in the UAE’s wadis, deserts, and mountains. The pavilion’s paving, another unique aspect of the project, was created by desert INK with local flooring contractors and incorporates recycled glass and waste materials from the metal smelting industry. This signature paving finish is visually striking, yet also highly sustainable. Meanwhile, bamboo composites are employed in lieu of hardwoods while the entire planting palette represents a huge step forward in the use of native and adaptive plants within a designed landscape. Eschewing use of concrete walls to retain the site’s significant level changes, the landscape instead employs gabion baskets filled with locally-sourced rubble. This move allows the retaining structures to not only contribute a wonderful earthy aesthetic, but hugely reduces the project’s carbon footprint.

The pavilion landscape is composed of a number of different zones, with each delivering a particular aesthetic and message. The Urban Xeriscape zone combines native plants with plants from other regions which share similar climatic conditions to create a wonderful collage of textures and colours. Meanwhile, the productive gardens offer visitors to learn how to reduce food miles through growing plants locally. The Arabian Desert zone features rolling dunes and groves of the UAE’s beloved Ghaf tree. Each zone is bound by a common flowing, undulating language which gradually focuses smaller tributaries and paths towards a main wadi path, which then descends towards the sunken entrance of the building. These flowing lines serve not only to enhance the narrative and aesthetic, but likewise guide the convergence of visitors towards the entrance of the pavilion itself. With a number of arching walls accentuating the undulating pathways, visitors can enjoy exploring spaces which are concealed, then revealed in an engaging sequence. Throughout the landscape, visitors learn about the flora, fauna and environment of the UAE through interpretations, sculptures and messages. Visitors leaving the pavilion do so not only thoroughly entertained, but also enriched by a greater appreciation for the local and world environment.

The landscape design for the Sustainability Pavilion is without question one of the most sustainable constructed landscapes in the region. The use of native and adaptive plants alone ensures that the design requires a fraction of the irrigation required by conventional landscapes. Couple these drought tolerant species with highly efficient sub-surface irrigation for trees and palms which provides water into the roots rather than at the surface, and further savings are delivered. Irrigation water is provided from the building’s captured AC condensate combined with greywater and treated sewage effluent. Sewage from the pavilion and surrounding buildings is treated through a reed bed filtration system which visitors can explore via a sequence of boardwalks floating just above the surface. Clean water exiting the reed bed system is then fed into the irrigation system and re-used to irrigate the project’s vegetation. This process delivers a strong message that such passive processes are not only efficient and environmentally sound, but also beautiful.

During the development of the pavilion, the design team were acutely aware that the project’s economic viability is just as critical as its environmental sustainability. Truly sustainable developments deliver the greatest value for the longest time at the lowest cost to the economy and the community. In terms of landscape, desert INK acknowledged that significant investment in creating beautiful and usable outdoor spaces must be well justified. As a result, every design choice was scrutinized to ensure that it adds value to the overall experience and environmental credentials. desert INK consider “how many different ways does this provide benefit?” and “for how long will this benefit be delivered?” Trees are not incorporated for aesthetic reasons only; they are carefully located to also maximize provision of shade for pedestrians while also serving to frame views of features or vistas.Consequently, all interventions are justified, serving multiple functions. A truly collaborative enterprise, the pavilion is testament to the wonderful relationships, mutual respect and cross-fertilization of ideas between the project stakeholders.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: EDEN project International

Architecture offices involved in the design: Grimshaw Architects

Project location: Expo Road, Dubai South, Jebel Ali

Design year: 2018

Year Built: 2020




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