The Sustainability Pavilion, named Terra, represents an opportunity to deliver an aspirational message about the natural world, ecology and technology to a global audience. Terra signifies and represents the planet Earth and will be one of the key experiences of the Expo. It takes visitors on an immersive and emotional journey through the wonders of the natural world and teaches us how to create a better and more sustainable future.
Grimshaw Architects sought to create a holistic experience that was both exhilarating and informative, and with the support of engineering consultants Buro Happold, the pavilion was conceived and designed not only for its striking form but also for its demonstration capabilities. Inspired by complex natural processes such as photosynthesis, the pavilion's dynamic form serves its purpose, capturing energy from sunlight and fresh water from humid air.
The systems developed have never been applied on such a scale. The Sustainability Pavilion is an important centre and functional laboratory for architectural exploration, demonstrating the possibility of self-sustaining architecture even in harsh climates. Situated in a prominent location, the pavilion structure works in tandem with the thoughtful landscape of demonstration gardens, winding pathways and shaded enclaves to create an aura of magic punctuated by the sights, smells and tactilities provided by the presence of nature.
The gardens surrounding the pavilion are integral to the visitor experience, both experiential and functional, setting the stage for the exhibition content and creating gathering areas that manage and distribute crowds while providing retail, food and beverage opportunities.
The content of the pavilion is central to the visitor experience and is one of the key drivers for sustainability design thinking. The exhibition programme is designed to draw on the incredible biodiversity of the planet and the amazing ways in which nature has adapted to harsh climates and conditions.
The pavilion covers approximately 25,000 m², including 6,300 m² of exhibition space. It has been designed as a net-zero energy and net-zero water building, which means that the pavilion produces all the energy and water it needs.
To achieve this, the pavilion is equipped with more than 1,050 solar panels, placed on the 130-metre wide canopy and on the locally designed energy trees (e-trees) that dot the landscape and rotate to face the sun, like a sunflower. These trees produce four gigawatt hours of electricity per year.
For water production, the building uses air condensation, recycles brackish water and has technology that extracts moisture from the air and feeds it back into the building's system to generate its water needs. Solar energy is then used to sterilise the water and remove micro-bio-contaminants.
The sustainability pavilion is also located partially underground, allowing it to be cooler than the ambient temperature, while its canopy also protects the pavilion from the sun. The canopy features 8,000 square metres of photovoltaic solar panels, with a 70 metre cantilever, and is shaped like a Ghaf tree which shades everything below and keeps the area cool.
Terra's visitor experience includes:
- A walk back in time through an Arabian wadi, a place where cheetahs and giant elephants once roamed.
- An interactive walk through the roots of the forest, where every step affects the "spider's web".
- An exploration "under the ocean" to discover the beauty and mysteries it holds.
- A journey into the halls of consumption, to discover the hidden ill effects of our choices.
- An encounter with "Gnasher", a large consumption machine that shows how natural resources are destroyed to make consumer products.
- An encounter with a deep-sea fish whose system is clogged with discarded plastic waste.
- The Future Values Laboratory: a hopeful space that presents solutions to the ecological challenges we face.
When you enter Terra, you cross a dry river bed or wadi before entering a cool courtyard. The pavilion has used desert plants for much of the landscape to reduce water use. Halophytes (salt-tolerant plants that grow in high salinity waters), gardens and reed beds help to filter and clean the building's water.
The auditorium walls are also made of natural materials, such as reclaimed wood, terracotta and gabions. The inner courtyard is made of raw steel. Everything is natural, with very little paint finish.
Across the courtyard, you can go to the exhibition spaces that deal with the different challenges we face in the world today, such as loss of biodiversity, climate change, mass extinction of species, etc. These are complex issues, but they are not the only ones. These are complex issues, but they are illustrated through immersive experiences. The idea is to teach visitors how to make a difference in today's world by making simple changes to their lifestyle.
In addition to the main innovation gallery, Terra also has a children's gallery with its own play area, where the key themes are plastic awareness, the need for recycling and deforestation, all illustrated by immersive experiences.
Finally, it is possible to end the day at the Terra Café, where all food and drink is sustainably sourced and packaged, and where visitors can learn where their food comes from and how it affects the environment.
The Sustainability Pavilion is designed to live on beyond the life of Expo 2020 as part of the Expo 2020 legacy strategy, providing a distinct architectural presence driven by the message it intends to convey.