Symbolic of the UAE’s pioneering spirit, the pavilion of the EXPO host country, is designed to capture its national identity and vision.

Drawing inspiration from the grace and force of the falcon in flight (UAE’s national icon) established the grounds for the conceptual framework. The pavilion embodies the falcon, the façade its wings, and the landscape, informed by the movement of the wings, presents blade-shaped paving encased with regionally-sourced stone. Prior to WAHO’s appointment, Calatrava undertook a preliminary landscape concept design and WAHO chose to progress the blade-shaped paving so as to encompass the building with a strong radial layout that directly responds to the building features.

The radial paving layout highlight notion of flow and movement, representing the wider desertscape, drawing visitors to the building resulting in the creation of a strong connection between the public realm and pavilion.

In between the bands, endemic planting extends from the pavilion also guiding visitors to the entrance. It is an oasis-like setting to showcase the plant species native to the UAE. The shade structures also inspired from the falcon’s physicality, are balanced with the radial bands and planting areas.

Juxtaposed against the tranquil sound and light emanating from the falaj -an ancient irrigation system artfully integrated into the landscape as a cultural reference- the landscape heightens sensory experiences, providing balance and harmony, and directing visitor flow by adjusting the water’s reticulation speed resulting in a fluid, contemporary design grounded in thought-leading placemaking.

The falaj is intended to walk people towards the queue line access of the pavilion. The flow of water directs guests towards the entrance, acting as a wayfinding element. The main water source is a carved travertine stone filled with water. The idea is to have a still water body that has reflections of the trees and the building around.

WAHO has woven threads of UAE’s cultural tapestry into a contemporary landscape narrative including :

  • – showcasing cultural assets and their significance through creating intimate spaces where artisans demonstrate crafts from a bygone era.
  • – locally sourced stone together with an endemic planting palette comprising 5500 plants (most are native and used traditionally for medicinal properties and cuisine), create the basis for a strong local sense of place.
  • – The water channels represent a key element of Emirati heritage. This ancient irrigation system was designed to bring water from the mountains into the desert to sustain village life and crops. The Falaj is still used today to irrigate farms and date palm plantations.


Planting Depth: The main challenge was building the entire landscape on top of a concrete slab, because below the oasis we have the car park. This didn’t include trees which was a key challenge as there was insufficient soil depth to plant the trees, which is why we introduced the walls following the radial paths. The 450mm height walls have a double function: they serve as a seating walls for the visitors to rest while they wait to access the exhibition area and, they act as retaining walls for the sweet soil to plant the trees. Gentle mounds where the trees were planted provides an undulating landscape that mimics the UAE desertscape.

Falaj: Presented a technical challenge due to a gentle slope from the building to the public realm. WAHO introduced a modern interpretation of the falaj, with a big solid water source, a channel that runs along the plot with water at walking speed and a final water feature that catches the water in a calm water mirror. We did a precise study of all the levels to achieve the proper functionality of the falaj.

Climate: The creation of micro-climates that provide optimal comfort against the harsh conditions were achieved through leveraging the layered shading structures with carefully selected placement of softscape. These elements, together with the cool air emanating from the falaj’s water, aid in delivering a unique microclimate for the comfort of visitors.

Noise: The oasis acts as a buffer from the busy surroundings of the pavilion to the building. The trees, the desert planting and the gravel absorb the noise creating a still calm area. The water falaj introduces a white noise that reinforces the tranquillity of the space.


Solar, wind, and shadow studies in 3D modelling, guided the design and its ability to respond sensitively to the site conditions and surrounding context.

Emphasis was placed on reducing the environmental impact associated with the high demand of energy and water consumption. Results were:

  • – 59% reduction in irrigation water consumption through selection of native and adaptive species with 100% of the irrigation demand sourced from treated water
  • – Reducing 58% water consumption using water efficient fixtures

Also, passive cooling, ventilation and shading strategies ensured that energy consumed by the building is both reduced and managed. Sunken, shaded gardens, oriented to channel wind and air flow, create comfortable outdoor environments that are further cooled by large pools flanking pedestrian walkways.

To create an efficient landscape intervention including computer-controlled irrigation assessments, modular water storage cells with a 95% void ratio are installed to allow for the collection and disbursement of rainwater.


Celebrating the UAE’s cultural heritage, the pioneering spirit of its ancestors and the connections they forged which has helped transform the UAE today, WAHO’s carefully considered and sensitive placemaking, harmonises and elevates the falcon-inspired architectural form capturing this symbolic interpretation and culminating in a fluid and contemporary design.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Place Dynamix, Santiago Calatrava

Architecture offices involved in the design: Santiago Calatrava

Project location: UAE Pavilion, EXPO 2020, Dubai South, Dubai, United Arab Emirates,55.1499122,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x3e5f72d96c346f37:0xde5ba543a57b031b!8m2!3d24.9612564!4d55.1521009

Design year: 2018-2019

Year Built: 2019-2021


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