Expo 2020 Dubai: Witteveen+Bos's contribution to the Netherlands Pavilion

A design for an attractive and intriguing circular building with innovative indoor climate systems, using Dutch innovations. That is what Witteveen+Bos delivered with the Netherlands Pavilion for Expo 2020 in Dubai. We were responsible for the structural design and the indoor climate system. Witteveen+Bos also worked on the building physics and the sustainable aspects of the pavilion. All construction materials employed are reusable, recyclable or biodegradable.

Our experts’ knowledge incorporated all of the various areas of expertise necessary for integrated engineering and design. We are proud that our innovative work was recognised at the Big 5 Impact Awards, where we received the award for Sustainable Construction Project of the Year.

A consortium consisting of Expomobilia, V8 Architects, Kossmann.dejong and Witteveen+Bos was selected to design and construct the Netherlands Pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai. If you are curious and interested in having a look at our exceptional pavilion, take the 3D tour.

Uniting water, energy and food

The Netherlands Pavilion is designed as a biotope, a circular climate system that brings together innovative Dutch solutions uniting water, energy and food. The temporary circular climate system works by extracting water from the air and energy from the sun, allowing approximately 9,300 edible plants – such as tomato, basil, mint and asparagus – to grow.

Sustainable solutions

The pavilion is remarkable for being fully sustainable and was built using locally sourced materials that are reusable, recyclable or biodegradable. Witteveen+Bos worked on the pavilion’s sustainable aspects, which are an integral part of the experience. The pavilion’s design allows for a large number of visitors – high attendance figures are expected every hour – while also meeting the technical requirements for the indoor climate system to function effectively. As the building will only be in use for six months, the pavilion was designed with circularity in mind. This is reflected in the choice of materials used for all components, including structural elements. Our team worked with a structure of steel sheet piles and steel tubes, as those materials are widely available and known for their reusability. Sheet piles are often used in temporary structures and many companies rent them out, contributing to the project’s fully sustainable nature.

The box-shaped steel structure consists of two cofferdams – constructed using two rows of sheet piles – horizontally supported by a roof of steel pipes. The main level of the pavilion is 4.2 m underground, and the soil that was excavated to reach this depth was placed between the cofferdam walls. This created a stable structure capable of bearing all possible loads during its lifetime, including earthquakes.

The soil inside the cofferdams also creates good insulation and thermal mass, which is needed to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the pavilion. Although the Expo takes place during the cooler months in Dubai, temperatures in October and March can still reach 40 degrees Celsius.

Climate system

At the centre of the pavilion is an 18-metre-high cone-like structure, named ‘The Food Cone’. Its exterior is covered with a variety of edible plants, while oyster mushrooms cover its inside. These fungi are an important part of the biotope, emitting carbon dioxide which is absorbed by the plants on the cone’s exterior. The floor and wall panels are made from mycelium, a biodegradable fungus-based substance, demonstrating how mushrooms can be used within building materials.

The cone is not only the centrepiece of the pavilion; it is also the heart of the indoor climate system. Cool air flows into the cone, moving on into the main entrance hall at the end of the pavilion, which results in a cool indoor climate system throughout the whole structure. The choice of systems used to create the climate was also made with circularity and reuse in mind: all the main components were rented for the relevant period and will be returned at the end of the Expo.

An example of one of these systems is the adiabatic cooling system, designed by Witteveen+Bos. The air is cooled by the evaporation of water sprayed into the area through small nozzles.

As the main engineers of the climate system for the Netherlands Pavilion, Witteveen+Bos is proud to have been able to integrate Dutch innovations – such as the rainmaker and the solar panels – into the overall systems design. This integration makes the design a truly collaborative effort.

Plants and panels

The pavilion’s roof consists of solar panels which illuminate and power the biotope. The vibrantly coloured panels were specially designed for the pavilion and are made from lightweight organic transparent solar cells (OPV), which are circular and constructed from non-toxic materials. These unique solar panels collect energy from the Dubai sun to power the pavilion while also allowing tinted daylight to enter the pavilion, filtering the right spectrum of light for the edible plants to utilise for photosynthesis. By these means, sufficient energy is gathered to supply all of the pavilion’s climate systems.

The Netherlands Pavilion can be found in the Sustainable District of Expo 2020, which runs from 1 October 2021 until 31 March 2022. The pavilion is a meeting point for business communities, educational and research institutions, and government and social organisations.

Facts and figures

  • Client: Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Netherlands Enterprise Agency

  • Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  • Year awarded: 2018

  • Year compled: 2021

  • Gross floor area: 3,727 m²

  • Programme: Exhibition space, auditorium, restaurant, VIP lounge and shop

  • Architect: V8 Architects

  • Pavilion construction and main contractor: Expomobilia

  • Interactive visitor experiences: Kossmann.dejong

  • Sustainable aspects and structural design: Witteveen+Bos

Take the 3D tour

Or browse through the photos below

More information?

Maarten Veerman

Team manager Building physics and BIM
Witteveen+Bos medewerker Daniël Dusseljee

Daniël Dusseljee

Managing Director, Witteveen+Bos EMEA DMCC