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Sustainable Legacy in the Planning

This article was originally published in the Bureau of International des Expositions Bulletin 2017, in January 2018. Architects and founders of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture are responsible for the Master Plan of Expo 2017 Astana and for the design of Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Sustainable design means different things to different people – ask an engineer what it means and the response will likely include a reference to reducing energy demand, water consumption, material use, waste generation or some other tangible, measurable resource. Ask an urban designer or a community worker and you are more likely to hear words and phrases such as social equity, land use, resilience and healthy community. Ask a local government official and you may hear talk about economic stability and growth or employment opportunities and crime rates.

Sustainability has always transcended the colloquial definitions assigned to it, yet there is somehow a perceived requirement that sustainable design be all things to all people and, indeed, throughout history, the importance of issues that include cultural longevity, education and economics have always been integral to the success and sustenance of any culture.

For Expos, the critical sustainable concept includes many of the above and is most important to be delivered in a Legacy concept. This is important to the cultural and economic longevity of the City and the Country. In the end, engineering, urban design, and architecture need to all combine with the cultural and economic needs of a project. The absence of any of the above can lead to an isolated solution that does not stand the test of time.

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG) has had the pleasure and distinction of working on two recent Expos: The Astana 2017 Future Energy Expo and the Dubai 2020 World Expo. Each of these have their own unique planning and sustainable demands and characteristics. The distinction is between Specialized Expos such as Astana (where the site is fully developed by the Organizer) and World Expos such as Dubai (where the Expo is defined by the multiplicity of separately designed pavilions). The challenge of the designer in both cases is to implement sustainability throughout the whole site of a Specialized Expo, or to integrate it within the larger Master Plan of a World Expo.


Astana is a relatively new city, established on 10 December 1997 as the capital city of Kazakhstan. Since its formation the city has exhibited tremendous growth. An increase in population (the 2017 census reported a population of 1,006,574 within the city limits) as well as a strategic geographic location, almost at the center between Europe and Asia, has allowed Astana to become a global destination for business and commerce. Serving as the cultural gateway to Kazakhstan, the city represents the entire country and its principles. Astana has also been the host of international events engaging world leaders to discuss issues of international relevance. The Expo is one such event, inviting and engaging people from around the world.

Expo 2017 is called “Future Energy,” a theme that is particularly important as Astana shifts from a primarily oil-based culture to one with diverse natural and sustainable resources. The Expo 2017 theme is aimed at finding ways to achieve qualitative changes in the energy sector, primarily for the development of alternative sources of energy and new ways of transportation. Finding sustainable energy supplies is a critical and growing global concern and solutions to these concerns will ensure economic growth and improved social standards while reducing the burden on the environment. Consequently, “Sustainable Design” was important to this theme.

In order to be successful, the Legacy design for Expo 2017 had to consider these issues, including an appropriate economic approach to the development. The importance of attracting the world to Astana was certainly crucial for the exposition but attracting commerce and residents in the Legacy mode were the most sustainable and economic related concepts under consideration. Designing the project to be an integral part of the city and seeing the Expo site as a home for future residents to live, play, work, and learn, was critical. Identifying the trajectory of the local and national culture in order to position Astana on the global stage was equally as important but the transformation from Expo to Legacy was the driving principle for the design, execution, and delivery of the project.

In order to make the project feasible, a mixed-use approach to programming, which identified needs such as schools and housing typologies appropriate for the market, was very important. The energy component of the design expanded these fundamental principles and served as the overriding platform in order to move these principles into the next generation of buildings for the city.

The Astana Brief

AS+GG designed the Expo 2017 Master Plan and associated 33 buildings considering the designated theme, “Future Energy,” a concept that is aimed at finding ways to achieve qualitative changes in the energy sector, primarily for the development of alternative sources of energy and transportation.

Finding sustainable energy supplies and a solution to these concerns ensures economic growth and improves social standards while reducing the burden on the environment.

From the start of Expo 2017, it was understood that the project was rich in potential, rich in program and had a vast array of building types associated with it. It had cultural significance and it was clear that it was a transformational project not just for a city, but for a country. The concept for the Expo - “Future Energy” - aligned well with the Legacy approach for the project.

The Expo was visited by 4 million local residents and tourists. With around 85% of the total number of visitors were citizens of Kazakhstan, it was vital that the community was fully engaged with the buildings. It was important for the team to understand the larger issues surrounding the event and the city and to conceive of the buildings and their related Master Plan as an integrated urban, architectural, social, cultural and sustainable contributor to Astana.

Design Approach

The concept for the project was based on the criteria that designing for the Legacy mode was as important, if not more important, than the Expo mode. There was an understanding that the Expo would capture the city’s attention for three months, but the economic prioritization was that the buildings would last for decades. If there was value to invest in the life-cycle Legacy of a country and city, then the buildings and Master Plan needed to address the community’s post-Expo functions at least as equal to those for the Expo itself.

Expo City, the post-Expo development, will embrace the Expo 2017’s “Future Energy” concept by becoming one of the world’s most energy efficient communities, where energy consumed by the community will be provided from renewable sources. Buildings will utilize a variety of energy saving and generation concepts in order to provide a low energy-use platform in both Expo and Legacy modes. AS+GG’s Expo Master Plan provides the infrastructure to encourage and support the use of an array of networks including using vehicles that use renewable fuels. The forms and language of the buildings are designed to reduce their energy needs and operate as “power plants” that harness energy from the sun and/or wind. The buildings will use this power directly or supply it to the district-wide smart grid for storage or use.

As we continue to deal with growing urban populations and increasing demand on basic resources such as water, food, and energy, Expo City will become a model for future cities. It will be a hub of knowledge in renewable energies generation, and distribution, and a laboratory of these technologies that will serve as an example for future generations. The Smart City concepts and technologies introduced in Expo City can be expanded and integrated into the rest of Astana and eventually Kazakhstan.

Site and Master Plan Approach

The Site: The Expo 2017 site is located in Astana, Akmola Province, Kazakhstan at a cultural axis, just south of the Bayterek Tower and east of the Knowledge/Science Center of Nazarbayev University. Because of this distinct and meaningful site, Expo City is positioned to be a significant landmark in Astana.

Although historically the site was a small-scale agricultural development—and prior to that it would have been steppe—no farmland was disrupted and the site was designed within an existing boundary delineated by existing main roads. The site works well as an infill site that completes the southwestern corner of Astana.

Within the general energy theme of the expo, the overall aim was to reduce the energy demand of the site to the greatest extent possible using both passive and active strategies. At the same time, opportunities for generation of power were investigated and incorporated into the public realm and the building design.

The architecture and Master Plan were designed by using site-specific indicators like solar and wind orientation, weather conditions, and cultural context that were determined from a series of studies with the goal of minimizing the site’s energy-use while maximizing its energy-harvesting potential and comfort levels.

The Master Plan: The Master Plan for the Expo City Legacy community is designed around the same guiding principles as Expo 2017. The resulting analysis offers the most efficient orientation in order to optimize solar radiation to reduce energy usage for heating. Not only does this strategy improve user comfort but it also maximizes the potential energy that can be generated from building mounted photovoltaics and wind turbines.

The Master Plan is conceived not as an Expo demonstration project but as a community for the city and its residents. The buildings were designed and built only once so that the transition from Expo to Legacy will be minimal. The concept includes systems and platforms for everything from technology and energy to public transportation and public space.

Equally important are the lasting physical connections that will be developed from the Expo site to existing sites around Astana. For example, a covered city concept was developed to connect Nazarbayev University, the future train station, the retail corridor, and the Expo buildings. This zone will encourage pedestrian use and connectivity year around and will include residential, office, cultural, and retail use. To the north, the linear park that serves as an entrance to the expo, is anchored by Bayterek Tower and toward the south, by the “New Symbol of Astana:” the Kazakhstan Pavilion.

The site-wide infrastructure concept, developed by the AS+GG team, is an integration of occupants, buildings and utilities. These include a smart-energy grid, smart recycled water grid, integrated waste management system, water reduction and waste to landfill reduction targets.

Phased Development: Split into two phases, the 174 ha project features exhibition and cultural pavilions (230,000 m2 ); a residential development (1,376,000 m2); service areas including shopping, socio-cultural, educational, and civic facilities; and parks and parking for a total of legacy master planned area of 1,805,000 m2.

Phase 1 or the “Expo Mode,” contains the Expo buildings including the central Kazakhstan Pavilion; Theme, Corporate, and International Pavilions; as well as a hotel, the Congress Center, retail, art, and performance spaces. The first phase includes the design and construction of a series of buildings that will act as a “covered city,” which will include retail and office spaces. Phase 1 also includes a series of temporary buildings designed to comply with their Expo function and be efficiently moved to their final destination in Astana or any other desired destination after their Expo use. This group of mostly pre-fab modular buildings include Kiosks, entry canopies, taxi and bus stations, and amphitheater enclosures.

Phase 2 or the “Legacy Mode,” integrates and adapts the Expo mode buildings into their final program. International and theme pavilion buildings are converted into an office and research park that will attract international companies and entrepreneurs. Expo on-grade parking and service zones are transformed into thriving first-class integrated neighborhoods with an additional 667,000 m2 of residential area, as well as offices, hotels, local markets, and civic and educational facilities.

When considering the Master Plan for the Legacy mode the design team’s first observation is the potential lack of human scale given the immense scale of the site, as well as the required space needed for large crowds. This type deficiency in a city with such harsh weather conditions does not promote a sense of place and is not conducive to the healthy lifestyle of a pedestrian friendly city. The design proposes ways to help the citizens of Astana enjoy a more walkable city with a denser - and healthier - urban environment that promotes community engagement through public spaces and gardens.

Through careful environmental analysis, the Master Plan is designed to significantly reduce winter winds on public streets in order to enhance and promote walking. Primary and secondary streets are sized to a more comfortable human scale. Landscapes are designed to make open park areas more comfortable all year long and building envelopes are shaped to maximize sun radiation on living spaces that will reduce energy consumption and improve indoor spaces all year long. For the harsh winters, connectors have been proposed between buildings that promote pedestrian circulation that will connect the center of the complex for those who study, shop, and work so that all can enjoy the array of cultural venues by simply walking through a series of public enhanced spaces.

The key to the economic value of the Expo project is the Legacy mode. The Expo Organizer should not spend billions of dollars on an Expo that lasts three months when they can create an economic engine for the City that will last a lifetime. Establishing new standards of energy with a neighborhood that will thrive and improve the way of life in Astana, was an integral part of the process.

The Master Plan design effort also included all of the periphery housing parcels and their architectural and sustainable guidelines. The process included meeting with housing developers and their architects to discuss the design of the buildings and parcels in a sustainable way. In the end, every residential parcel was sold, generating a great amount of revenue for the Expo Organizer, thus reducing the need for public funds.

Building Design

The defining symbol of the Expo 2017 site is the Kazakhstan Pavilion Sphere (24,000m2), located at the center of Expo City. The pavilion consists of an exterior wall system that reduces thermal loss and interior solar glare. A host of integrated systems, including photovoltaics, save energy use and increase energy output of the building simultaneously.

The Sphere serves as an example of the extent of analysis and design that all buildings were subjected to for the project. As a driving philosophy to place buildings in their best possible position in terms of needing less energy, the Sphere was clearly a challenge. The host of buildings designed in concert with the Master Plan sought to protect themselves from the harsh winters and absorb as much solar energy as they could throughout the year. This gives each building its own unique signature, directly relating to its orientation and use, a practice and process referred to internally at AS+GG as Form Follows Performance.

The Sphere is structurally supported by a central double core that is used to organize stairways and support functions such as service elevators and restrooms. A central atrium is surrounded by eight passenger elevators where visitors can experience the building and exhibitions as they travel in the glass enclosures from the ground level plaza to the top observation and event space. There are two opposing atria that are designed for absorption and convection that circulate air from the warm side of the Sphere to the cool side throughout the year. The envelope is a double-curved-glass facade that maintains the true spherical character. This critical design feature emphasizes the extent to which the team and consultants pursued design excellence to create the highest quality of architecture.

The 80-meter-diameter structure is slightly modified from a perfect complete sphere shape so that it achieves its renewable-energy goals. The building’s form, with its potential geometry adjustments, was tested and modeled to determine how to minimize energy use, maximize daylighting, control glare, and take advantage of renewable sources with integrated photovoltaics and wind turbines that create energy for the building.

The generation of renewable energy from this central Expo City building not only serves a pragmatic need but has a symbolic function as well. After arriving to the top floor of the sphere, visitors, and residents can experience energy generation through wind and solar power. Renewable energy generation is produced and experienced from the very top of the highest Expo building.

At the base, a covered access plaza organizes the entry sequence to the museum floors and provides additional exhibition space. Visitors can walk under the sphere and see into the interior spaces for alternative vantage points. Levels 2-8 are designated exhibition floors. Level 8, the highest floor, is a unique opportunity with unmatched views toward the city and features a front row experience of renewable energy generation technologies like Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) and wind turbines.

The design team used Building Information Modeling (BIM) to explore multiple iterations of the design in a virtual space early in the design process. Each version was analysed for design expression, energy impact, and structural integrity. The Sphere’s complex design required close collaboration with the structural and MEP consultants so all opportunities for energy generation would be investigated. After the initial form was chosen, more detailed analysis was conducted using Rhino/Grasshopper to further refine the form and to maximize the sun exposure for the solar panels. Many concepts were completed and tested to integrate the BIPV panels while balancing the requirements of other critical building components such as MEP, surface area requirements, collision with other architectural elements, maximizing wind swept area for the turbines, and the rationalisation the double-curved minimal surface geometry. Ultimately BIPV cells were installed at the top of the sphere to generate renewable energy for the entirety of the building. During the testing phase, the energy model predicted 81,056 kWh/yr of electricity or 2.21% of total energy demand.

To take advantage of potential wind energy generation, a concave area was carved out of the building’s top for wind turbines. Countless designs were modeled and tested to find an appropriate form that responded to both the programmatic requirements and that also optimised the amount of energy generation. These iterations focused on the wind energy that could be harvested from the surface of the Sphere. The design team worked closely with wind engineers to design and test multiple overall building forms and eventually the various shapes of an inlet on the surface of the building. Predominant southwest winds activate the turbines that were designed specifically for the harsh winter conditions of Astana.

The Kazakhstan Pavilion Sphere is an ideal example of universal design. The team knew early in the design process that their roles as architects and planners would go beyond the delivery of the design. The important goal was to design a building that would be a symbol of pride for everyone in the community. It was important to the designers to work toward a higher standard for urban development and architectural design, one that would serve all of the needs of a diverse 21st century community. For instance, the entire building is completely accessible to people with disabilities.

Other highlights within the complex include the Congress Center and Energy Hall Theater, both of which bracket the extremes of public gathering spaces in the Expo and Legacy modes. The Congress Hall will be used for formal gatherings, like political parties and dignitary functions while Energy Hall was designed as an experimental pop-up theater for local groups who need a space to practice and hone their craft.

Understanding the needs for both of these programs helps them coexist in harmony within the Master Plan, allowing the team to relate them informally to the Master Plan’s “Cultural Axis,” which connects both the theaters to the Kazakhstan Pavilion Sphere.

Congress Center

The Congress Center’s futuristic design features a state-of-the-art 3000 person auditorium, exhibition spaces, sponsor presentation areas, secure VIP and VVIP areas, associated press rooms, supporting offices, and a dedicated parking garage. The center hosted significant events during the Astana International Exposition in 2017 and will act as a hub for future events in Expo City, the planned legacy development for the Expo.

Congress Center’s design takes advantage of its national significance, acting as an anchor for the Cultural Axis in the overall Master Plan. The building will be fully integrated into a public park with its main entrance oriented towards the Expo site with full views of the Sphere. A covered plaza with direct access to the adjacent residential neighborhood will help the efficiency and control of the Congress Center during Legacy mode and other smaller community events.

The Congress Center was designed with an optimized form and orientation that reduces energy and carbon loads, while incorporating passive design philosophies. Solar radiation analysis helped determine the optimal location for the rooftop photovoltaic panels, while the exterior facade is tilted downward to minimize solar radiation on the walls. The linear horizontal glass lines along the perimeter provide indirect natural sunlight to the main perimeter circulation area that leads to an enclosed end public zone which is also fully naturally light. The daylighting analysis also helped shape the form and the size of the atrium skylight and the density of the solar cells integrated on the skylight glass.

Energy Hall

Energy Hall is a 6,500 m2, 1,000 seat multi-functional Proscenium Theater that was designed to be the main indoor performance space for Expo 2017. It significantly contributes to the cultural experience of Astana, both during the Expo and after.

A public area, which frames and encloses the auditorium, the stage, and the technical areas, was created between the glass envelope and the theatrical active volume skin of the building. This area becomes an active space that can be used even when the theater is not open, extending the use of the venue and activating the covered street adjacent to it. The skin of the theatrical space is designed as an active, programmable, and animated membrane that can remain active and animate the “theater” though the day, night, and even when there are no performances.

Energy Hall is also a highly-sustainable building with façades high-performance, triple-glazed glass. Other energy reduction strategies used in Energy Hall include hyper-insulated radiant floors; a hyper-insulated roof cavity; reclaimed water for toilet flashing; and responsive lighting controls to maximize daylighting.

Additional Expo Buildings

Each building for the Expo was shaped specifically for the site. Due to extremely harsh winters and limited sun radiation during this period, the buildings are oriented to be exposed to as much sun as possible. Once this optimized orientation was achieved, sun radiation either enhances the interior spaces of the different types of buildings through daylighting or is harvested through an array of BIPV that produce energy.

Renewable energy sources power a community where each building has extremely reduced energy demands and also produces its own energy. A state of the art smart grid allows for effective distribution of energy though the day and the seasons.

Each of the Expo buildings was designed to take advantage of their site location. For example, everything in the residential development, from the street grid rotation, the block size and the distribution of building mass was developed through a series of studies to reduce energy use, improve comfort levels (indoors and outdoors) and increase energy harvesting for each unit.

Strategies incorporated into the building’s designs include high-performance energy piles that will reduce energy demand and exposed thermal mass that will provide temperature modulation within the buildings during both summer and winter; 100% of rainfall from a 100-year storm event will be managed on site; and 90% of waste generated on-site will be diverted from a landfill.

In the post-Expo phase, the entire district will be transformed into a cultural, office and research park. In studying the fate of previous Expo sites, the design team learned that the approval needed for a legacy development is often difficult and lengthy to obtain from the perspective of the organizers due to upfront fundraising.

AS+GG worked closely with Astana Expo 2017 NC and the governments in Astana and Kazakhstan to develop buildings that in many instances challenged the established standards, codes, and regulations. Through creativity and compromise the team was able to successfully procure and implement sustainable buildings that are capable of catalyzing a new city development in a totally new way.

Design Process and Challenges: Codes and Construction

The project required that 33 buildings and approximately (521,000 m2) of space be used during the Expo event and a total of 597,000 m2 for the Legacy mode be designed in a single year. Together the team, along with the local private sector, and public agencies solved the most pressing needs and schedules and influencing new laws.

A key challenge was to design pavilions that easily transitioned into museums and performing arts halls or converted into new uses such office buildings, headquarters facilities, and educational facilities, after the three-month Expo. It was important for the team, along with the Contractor, to understand the larger issues surrounding international events, such as an integrated architectural, social, cultural, and sustainable contribution to Astana and not as just an island of buildings. Together, the team designed and built a mixed-use neighborhood that will provide innovative places to live, work, and learn long after the Expo completes.

The team shared their collective previous experiences with the Expo Organizer, heads of state, and other public agencies, insuring that sustainability guidelines and principles of new urbanism were followed. Through patience and compromise the team successfully procured and is now implementing a plan for a sustainable community that is capable of catalyzing city development in a totally new way.

The team approached the project focusing on the design of a high-performing and integrated post-Expo community. While the three-month Expo phase was the immediate goal, the valuable lesson learned was that the almost always temporary Specialized Expo site can be designed to have a legacy—the site can be designed to transition into a permanent development, one that serves the needs of a 21st century community.

Key areas taken into account for this efficient transformation are:

  • Expo parking areas (parking on grade for Expo event) are designed to be transformed to residential neighborhoods.

  • Streets, sidewalks, and landscaping were designed and built during the Expo phase in such a way that they are functionally integrated to the post-Expo phase without demolition or reconstruction work.

  • Buffer zones were planned around the Expo residential neighborhoods to create a more intimate and comfortable residential experience with a separation from main roads around the Expo city.

  • Renewable generation strategies and infrastructure were included in these buffer public zones to double its benefits.

  • Schools are included in the post-Expo Master Plan to serve the diverse needs of future community.

  • All exhibition buildings (with the exception of the Kazakhstan pavilion and retail concessions, which will remain so) will be transformed and integrated into a first class office complex.

  • Additional landscape is envisioned for the post Expo phase in such a way that no major construction or demolition work needs to be executed on the already built expo site.

Efficient Legacy Transformation

Expo 2017 closed its gates on 10 September 2017 after 93 days. Post Expo, the Legacy development will be one of the most sustainably built in the world. The design calls for 100% of the post-Expo non-potable water demand to be provided by the on-site water reclamation facility and 24% of the post-Expo electrical demand to be met from on-site BIPV energy systems. As designed, the total post-Expo grid energy demand is 49% less than an ASHRAE 90.1 2010 Baseline, while the office buildings will use 22%-40% less energy than ASHRAE 90.1:2010 Baseline. Overall grid energy reduction is 59%.

Other key areas that add to the efficient legacy transformation include developing Expo parking areas into residential neighborhoods; integrating exhibition buildings into a first-class office complex; orienting the site for dedicated pedestrian and bike lanes; and creating dozens of public transportation links to the rest of Astana.

This moment can transform the way these type of projects are thought of; this project sends a global message about community, people, and responsibility so that it can advance the vision of Legacy sustainable thinking.


Site Principles

The Expo 2020 Dubai is a World Expo, a small expo than the Astana Expo. Expo 2020 Dubai has a larger site with a collection of projects that are being designed by multiple Architects and Engineers. Continuing the principles and lessons learned from Astana, for World Expo 2020 in Dubai, the AS+GG design has worked toward the similar principles of Legacy driven design with very different cultural, environmental, and economic values. The Legacy approach to the Master Plan takes into consideration the varying visions and directions that are set by the original Master Plan as well as the disparate design concepts from each team assigned to the various sites.

For Expo 2020 Dubai, Legacy guiding principles remain paramount. These principles include issues related to heritage, quality of life, social consciousness, responsibility, economics, and timelessness. In addition, design principles including scale, comfort, climatic comfort, and technology, as well as flexible platforms for transit and walkable connections. Starting with these principles, the team is working alongside the organizing team and continues to constantly test these against the designs and visions of individual projects.

As the design develops, the team designs and tests the Legacy against two scales: The first is the overall Master Site Plan at the district and regional scale. The second is the individual buildings. In addition to the Master Plan Legacy work, the AS+GG team is now working on the primary central space and buildings for the Expo defined as the Al Wasl Plaza.

After the consideration of multiple needs including a major performance space for Expo, as well as the Legacy need for public space, the design of the next generation of urban development for Dubai will be the heart of the new Expo City. Located in Dubai South, the center of the Expo, Al Wasl Plaza, is proposed to be a new public space, shaded by an interactive trellis and framed by a series of innovative and sustainable building types.

The economic consideration for the Legacy solution takes consideration site evaluation and seeks to create density where the greatest confluence of pedestrian and transit traffic will occur. By increasing the density of the area, formal public space can be realized and defined as the Legacy “gift” to the people of the Expo district as well as the City of Dubai.

In order for this to be compelling, a new prototype for public space was conceived: a green space that can function at an intimate casual scale for families and individuals and then transform into a great entertainment space enhanced through technology for large gatherings or special occasions.

Al Wasl will be the focal point of Expo 2020 and will remain to serve as the legacy Park for the district and for Dubai. This great “Urban Room” will be the center of a community and will comfortably support recreational activities as well as planned events for large and small-scale events.

The Park will be shaded by a 130-metre diameter trellis structure that will help in providing a cooler microclimate so that users and visitors can enjoy the gardens, ride horses and picnic surrounded by lush native landscape and beautiful water features. The space is capable of supporting both individual relaxation in the gardens and major events in the plaza. At night the space is designed to transform, through state-of-the-art technology, to bring the world’s largest immersive 360 degree visual projection experience to audiences from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and from around the World.

The space is also designed to provide personal experiences and moments of individual reflection. Its legacy is its flexibility and adaptability which will allow residents to engage in the simple aspects of life that are most meaningful: walking with their children, observing a natural habitat, learning about nature or simply gazing up and appreciating the stars in the desert night sky.

Framed by mixed-use buildings that look onto the park, this active urban community and garden will become a unique and distinguished urban public space. The United Arab Emirates and Dubai are taking the opportunity to make history by creating a prosperous world-class public space as a stage for unprecedented global and local events of all sizes.

The strategies surrounding the team’s approach to the design include not only the physical environment but also the social qualities the psychology of comfort and sustainability goals.


Following Expo 2020, the site will transition to District 2020, where the work will continue to Connect, Create and Innovate in an urban innovation lab focused on the intersections of business, technology and lifestyle. Over 500,000 m2 of Expo 2020 buildings, streets and utilities will be repurposed to anchor plots available for 1.75 million square meters of infill development. Creative mixed-use design will enable people to Work, Live and Explore, while fostering creativity, innovation and partnerships.

Strategically located and equidistant between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, directly adjacent to the new Al Maktoum International Airport and Jebel Ali Seaport, District 2020 is at the crossroads of global transportation and business. The Dubai Metro will connect District 2020 and the new airport to millions of commuters each year.

District 2020 will support a diverse workforce. A new Dubai World Trade Conference and Exhibition Center will connect businesses, products and ideas from around the globe through international trade fairs, consumer shows and conference events, while attracting more than three million people to the District each year. A variety of work environments will include Corporate Offices on major addressing streets and Creative Offices for small and medium-size enterprises, start-ups and incubators. Research and Development Hubs within the mixed-use areas will include offices, universities, maker-spaces and amenities.

The Emirates leaders’ vision to engage with leading science and technologies can be expressed in the use and functions of this exclusively-Dubai public plaza. Science and technology enhance the public use of the space by increasing occupant comfort and offering state- of- the- art public events. Lastly, the Emirates’ goal to build for the future and create a legacy that inspires today’s children to be tomorrow’s great leaders is greatly enhanced by this magnificent public space.

The importance of added value through investment strategies is associated with not only the Expo but also with the Legacy of the District. In all great cities, property values are greatest adjacent to major natural amenities supported by strong programming. Al Wasl will be a magnet for growth and activity in the Expo City. It will serve as a dynamic and memorable public space, attracting a range of businesses, tenants and programs. An investment in public space is intended to strategically generate the maximum potential and value for Dubai and the UAE.

With this in mind, the design is organised with the following principles to maximize value:

  • First, density was redistributed from the perimeter of the Expo Development to the center where it will be of greater value.

  • Second, investment was prioritised within the Expo 2020 from areas that are non-revenue generating structures to structures that are life-cycle revenue generating entities.

  • Third, an economic engine is being created at the heart of Expo 2020 that serves the needs during Expo and also has a strong legacy investment strategy.

  • Lastly, public open space is prioritised for the residents and is also proposed to be appropriately distributed throughout the masterplan with Al Wasl as the primary public garden space in which all visitors and residents engage.

Al Wasl marks a moment in time when Dubai is experiencing a cultural focus on authenticity of place. A dichotomy exists between global engagement and the prioritization of home. In this place, the two become one.

A new typology of urban space, Al Wasl will be the core of this new district and this next-generation public space for the Emirates to share with the world; securing it’s Legacy within the context of the Emirate and forever connected to the event of Expo 2020.


For both Astana 2017 and Dubai World Expo 2020, the approach to sustainable legacy design was and is at the forefront of their delivery. In different ways, the team was able to integrate sustainable guidelines and standards to manage a process that led to and will hopefully be realized in both projects as a lasting contribution to their respective Cities.

In both projects, the creation of new open public amenities and their integration with the existing city has been envisioned as a gift from the city and country leaders to the citizens of their Country. Also, the conception of the Expo sites as new centers of growth after the expo events, was conceived to add value to a city or region, attracting growth and public interest.

To amplify the benefits of a public / private investment was the driver for both projects. Both the private Citizen as well as the business environment need to succeed and experience positive results of such National projects.

For both projects, Client leadership was critical. Vision matched with policy and execution, and ultimately delivery, demands that all aspects of the project team be attuned to the Legacy plan.

Especially, since the focus can be so driven by the Expo itself.

For future development of projects considering an Expo as a catalyst for their City, the first step in developing the concept might be a genuinely sustainable approach. In both of these cases presented in this article, the projects are new. Perhaps a combination of existing and new buildings that are integrated into the fabric of a City might also be considered. While the Expo projects offer a tremendous amount of excitement and global attention to any host City, it may be that from a legacy standpoint, the betterment of an existing City through sustainable Legacy design, may be the greatest Legacy Expo plans have to offer.

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